Try Hard…

Don’t waste your mental powers in wishes. Don’t dissipate your energies by

trying to satisfy every whim. Concentrate on doing something really worth while.

The man that sticks to something is not the man that fails.

frustrated when learning something?

School trains us to get frustrated when we fail. Failure is a very good thing. It’s one of the best—maybe the best—learning
devices. Yet rather than capitalize on it, most schools work hard to turn failure into
something distasteful. And by the time people graduate, having spent most of their
formative years in an institution where failure is a sin, they have a huge aversion to
In most schools, the major structural element is ranking. We’re wired to take
ranking seriously. As soon as ranking exists, we care about it. A, B, C, D, F.
Pass/Fail. And in the worst­case­scenario, you fail and are “kept back a grade,”
which affects you socially.
I have many memories of teachers compounding the problem. The didn’t say, “How
interesting: you got an F. Let’s examine the situation and see how that happened…”
Instead, Fs came with stern lectures. When we got Fs, teachers (and parents) were
very disappointed in us.
(And I’ve never heard a teacher say, “Oh dear. You’ve gotten four As in a row. I
must not be challenging you enough. Let’s see if we can push you to failure so that
you can overcome it. Personal trainers understand how vital that is. They wouldn’t
let you keep lifting weights that didn’t strain your muscles. Many schoolteachers
don’t get it or work in environments that don’t allow it.)
They didn’t tell us that failure was a natural part of the learning process. They told
us we had let them and ourselves down. We were basically told, over and over, for
years, that if we got Fs, it was because we were lazy or stupid. Laziness is a moral
failing; stupidity is an innate deficit. Failure—school tells us—means we’re moral
and physical cripples.
People (understandably) hate this so much, that as soon as they can, they put
themselves in a position where they never have to fail again. (Or where the
chances of failing are as small as possible.) They find jobs that aren’t all that
challenging after an initial learning curve. The goal, conscious or not, is to coast for
the rest of one’s life.
Which gives adults very little day­to­day experience with failure. Most people I
know failed at certain subjects in school (maybe not by getting Fs, but by struggling
with those subjects for years), and now have simply decided “I’m not a ______
person” or “I just don’t get _______”, e.g. “I’m not a Math person” or “I just don’t get
Shakespeare.” That absolves them from trying. Which keeps them from failing.
Which keeps them from learning.
This is not the way we start out. If infants decided, after many hundreds of failures,
“I’m just not a walking person” or “I just don’t get talking,” we’d all be screwed.
Luckily, those skills are acquired before school gets its clutches on us.