Perseverance, not perfection, is what pupils should aim for
I started our first Whole School Chapel of 2018, with the following words:
"A new calendar year provides us all with the opportunity to reflect on the past and consider new resolutions for the future. If you have made New Year’s resolutions, then good luck in keeping to them…"
Mr Scot, Head of RS echoed these thoughts by elaborating on the origins of New Year’s resolutions:
The first New Year’s resolutions of which we know dates back to 153 BC – that’s 2,171 years ago. The Romans worshipped the god Janus, who was the god of new beginnings. Images of Janus show him with two faces. Why? The Romans believed that Janus could look into the past and into the future. Janus became the ancient symbol for making promises to make things better in the future, and the Romans put him right at the beginning of the calendar – that’s why we call this month JANUary. January is seen as a good time to look back at the past year and to think ahead to things that you could do better next year.
Mr Scot then followed this with a thoughtful presentation on why he felt ‘failure’ was important, indeed, he went on to say that he hoped we all failed in the coming 12 months, because with failure comes reflection, learning and hopefully resilience. Mr Scot quoted his favourite author, Neil Gaiman: “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.”
It was a good chapel to begin the year, and I was particularly interested in hearing that, as a child, Thomas Edison had been described as "too stupid to learn anything". We have all heard about those school reports which spectacularly underestimate the eventual success of the great and the good. In later life Edison certainly proved that particular teacher wrong. Apparently it took him over a thousand attempts to invent the light bulb and when asked how he felt about all the failures he had experienced before finally achieving success, he replied, "I didn’t fail a thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with a thousand steps." Edison felt that many failures occur when people give up, not realising how close they are to success.
105 years after Edison invented the light bulb, Carla Rubbia, won the Nobel Prize-for Physics and said, "I don't believe I have special talents, I have persistence … After the first failure, second failure, third failure, I kept trying."
Mr Scot reminded us that Henry Ford, founder of the Ford motor company said, "Failure provides the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently."
I always reassure our international students that there is no shame in making mistakes and that we have a saying that states ‘the person who makes no mistakes learns nothing’. We live in a world where being perfect, or striving for perfection, seems to be the perceived norm, especially as viewed through the prism of social media. However, none of us is perfect (thank goodness) and the idea that we should be striving for perfection is surely bound to end in perpetual failure. Striving to ‘improve and do better’ is one thing, but striving ‘to be perfect’ is not healthy for mind, body or spirit: it is neither realistic nor achievable.
Making mistakes is part and parcel of what is human, picking oneself up and persevering in the face of failure is a virtue that will not only lead to resilience, but also yield eventual success. Making mistakes is normal and, provided we learn from them, helpful in the long run. Of course, we do not want our pupils to be cavalier or reckless, but neither do we want them to be playing so safe that they never make those mistakes which will help them develop into interesting, stimulating and thoughtful people.
I am sure there are more than one thousand steps to becoming a successful person – I for one, am still counting!