Edison quote failureAs the school year wraps up, I reflect on the intersection of learning a new skill and encouragement. My daughter is nearing the end of her first year of playing the trumpet for her middle school band. From my perspective, she’s done remarkably well. To hear her tell it though, you’d form a different conclusion. When she practices her trumpet, she’s prone to moaning and proclaiming, “that was terrible!” whenever she makes the slightest mistake. Then she starts over again. This creates a series of very truncated songs, because she doesn’t ignore the small mistakes and continue playing. Yes, there is a rampant case of perfectionism brewing here.

A few months ago, after about six months of listening to her practice, I realized that my daughter’s perspective of practice isn’t fully formed. Her desire to play a musical piece–start to finish–without a mistake is a laudable goal. It is the ultimate aim of playing music. However, she hadn’t yet learned to see the mastery of a musical instrument as that of a journey, one with many stops along the way to the ultimate destination.

After I made this realization, I decided to shift the way I offered encouragement. I began to praise her when she was “close enough.” It was akin to management author Ken Blanchard’s saying of trying to “catch people doing something right.” Only, I modified it to “almost right.” I tried to help her see that when she gets a note “almost right” she should continue with the song, rather than breaking the flow. Over time, I told her, the notes would smooth out and she would achieve the melodic sound she desired.
Years ago, our family watched the Disney movie “Meet the Robinsons.” The theme of the movie was learning to embrace failure and mistakes as a natural part of the creative process. At the end of the movie, as the credits rolled, this quote appeared from Walt Disney: “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” I often think of this movie when my kids are feeling discouraged and likely to give up on an endeavor.

Drawing on both Disney and Edison, I decided to help my daughter shift her perspective: she wasn’t “failing” so much as she was figuring out how not to do something. This approach has paid off: her band teacher recently shared with me that my daughter is doing very well in class. Even more importantly, my daughter enjoys her practice sessions these days. That’s not to say that she doesn’t still get frustrated from time to time, but she’s more likely to “keep moving forward.”

And that is a recipe for successfully mastery of any skill.

Where in your life can you help someone see the value of “almost right?”

 

 

Copyright : Jaromír Chalabala

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