Something that we should all learn but is often ignored is that it is okay to fail, as long as you learn from your failure and try again. That is probably the most important lesson I learned in grad school. I always tell new grad students that they should expect to fail the first time they try something new. It’s not really peasant to hear but it is the truth, especially in research where you are probably doing something never done before and there are no instruction manuals. It’s also an important life lesson. The important part is not that you’ll fail, but that failure is normal and part of the learning process. Turns out this is very hard for students to accept, in class or in research. Our education system rewards success and good grades, and admonishes those who don’t do well at the start. As a teacher, I always feel more proud of the students who struggle at the beginning but still manage to get good grades at the end.
I’m reading astronaut Chris Hadfield’s book “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.” It’s a very fun read. He writes very well and is humorous. One sentence stood out to me. In talk about astronaut training, he says “Competence means keeping your head in a crisis, sticking with a task even when it seems hopeless, and improvising good solutions to tough problems when every second counts.” That hit the nail on the head. Being good at something is not a quick or easy process and is more than knowing a bunch of facts. Being competent is knowing how to use those facts to fit the situation at hand. For most of us we don’t have to worry about a mistake accidentally exposing you to the vacuum of space. Nevertheless, we should all strive to be competent, and embrace failure as a path to learning. Just remember to always get back up and try again.
“Never give up, never surrender!” – Captain Jason Nesmith (Galaxy Quest)