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Many people don’t take risks, because they are afraid of failure; they see it as something terrible, rather than as a learning opportunity. Thus, in this activity, everyone proudly announces that they have failed, and takes a bow to cheers from their peers.
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After everyone has gone around the circle, remind them that this is something that they can do throughout the rest of their time together. Hopefully, this will become a memorable activity that becomes a theme. In many of our classes and workshops, we hear people spontaneously erupting in cheers when they make mistakes.
If you wish, you can debrief with them and ask them why they think it’s valuable to celebrate failure, instead of hiding it or being ashamed. Many participants will have insightful comments about the critical role of failure.
It’s crucial to distinguish between two types of experiences that we call “failure.” The first is when you attempt something bold and valuable, and it does not turn out the way you had hoped. For example, you applied to colleges and were rejected by all of your top choices. Or you took a risk in trying to do stand-up comedy in front of a crowd, and nobody laughed. Those are all valuable failures because you took risks; even though you didn’t succeed, you might have learned something. It was worthwhile because you won’t be regretting your lack of courage to pursue what is really important to you. You won’t be wondering “what if?”
On the other hand, there are failures that come by not taking action. Let’s say that you want to write a book, but you always procrastinate and fail to take action. Or perhaps you write a manuscript but you fail to send it to literary agents or publishers. You are too scared of rejection, so you never take the steps that would be necessary to get it done. That’s not failure; that’s cowardice!
As University of Pennsylvania Professor Angela Duckworth has found, the key skill for success in life is grit: the ability to persevere and not give up, even amidst the greatest difficulties and failures. She found this to be a greater predictor of accomplishment than intelligence, natural talent, and any other factor that could be correlated with success. Indeed, she found this to be true in everything from the Spelling Bee to the military. People who work hard and don’t give up can overcome a lack of ability in an area; indeed, they can come to outperform those who are born with far greater gifts.
Transformative Action Institute, based on popular improv activity
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.