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The Willingness to Fail

Written By: Ralston Hartness - Community Outreach and Scholarship Coordinator

The Willingness to Fail

We all hate failure…

If you’re anything like me, the very mention of the word can feel terrifying. It can give you that feeling that makes you wan’t to put the project away, or walk past the teacher’s office, or decide not to try out for a performance or team. We are conditioned to run away from fear – but do we miss something by running away?

Tony and Grammy award winning actor Leslie Odom, Jr. speaking with UVA Pres. Jim Ryan on January 19 as the President’s Speaker for the Arts.

Looking at failure a bit differently…

Just a few weeks ago, Leslie Odom, Jr., a talented actor, musician, and author, visited Charlottesville. In his conversation with UVA President Jim Ryan, Odom, Jr. shared his perspective on failure: the willingness to embrace it was the force that led him to succeed. He said, “It is really just willingness to fail that got me wherever I was trying to go… If you are scared of failure or scared of looking ridiculous, you never get to see your real limits or find the person that is going to catch you when you fall.”

“As a young man, I yearned for the day when, rooted in the experience that comes only with age, I could do my work fearlessly. But today, in my mid-sixties, I realize that I will feel fear from time to time for the rest of my life. I may never get rid of my fear. But . . . I can learn to walk into it and through it whenever it rises up . . . naming the inner force that triggers . . . fear . . . Naming our fears aloud . . . is the first step toward transcending them.”

Parker Palmer, Teacher, Philosopher, Author, in A Hidden Wholeness, p.105

Be willing to know yourself…

The high school and college world can feel relentless towards failure. At times, you may think that your grade means everything, or getting that dream job determines everything. Even though it is a good and powerful thing to be driven to succeed, we may pass by on opportunities to know ourselves more deeply. We are often not willing to go to the places that bring our deep passions to life because we are so scared of fear. I encourage you, students, teachers, parents, to go to those places! By embracing and being willing to fail, we are actually expressing our willingness to know ourselves and our passions more deeply.

And that something that I would hope for everyone.

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