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The Benefits of Failure

For the past year, I have been working in earnest to develop a new relationship with failure. In fact, being willing to try new things and fail might be the greatest lesson I carried away from my stint in the Waldorf Teacher Training Eugene program this past year.

Training to be a Waldorf teacher entails knitting, singing, playing a recorder, storytelling, painting, woodworking, drawing and form drawing, dancing, sculpting, acting, throwing and catching copper rods, walking on poles up in the air, and juggling, to name a few things encompassed by the program. Me? I am good at storytelling.

But it was fun, really fun. The most fun I have ever had while being quite mediocre at most everything I tried. And it was good for me.

Homeschooling Ian in the first grade while I was in this program, teaching him to read, write, knit, and play a recorder, made me keenly aware of how scary and unspeakably frustrating learning new skills can be. We gladly leave those first-grade feelings behind as we get older, tightening the circumference of our lives so we can stick to the subjects and activities at which we excel. At least, that’s what I did. Until I enrolled in this teacher training program that got me to move out of my comfort zone and forced me to try new things.

The feelings that emerged when my wet-on-wet watercolor looked like a still life of a mud puddle, or when my lump of clay, well, still looked like a lump of clay after a half hour of trying to coax a form out of it, were every bit the raw feelings of the first grader within, full of shame and rage that I had so little control over my hands, or held so little sway over the artistic processes before me.

As a mother to a first grader, it wasn’t lost on me that my job was to mother myself through these feelings, to love and value my 40-something self even as my paintings of mush were displayed amongst the brilliant, easy paintings of the MFAs in my midst. In the course of these activities, I realized that my tightly circumscribed life was a defense against the insults I feared having hurled at me — not from others, but from myself.

At the end of February of this year, I decided to leave the foundation year with two-thirds of the classes completed. Never before had I left a course of study unfinished (though just two weeks later I also became a “bee school” dropout, but that’s another story). But at that point of the program, I found that I was no longer so afraid of the hundreds of little failures that are part of stretching and learning to do something new. And I came to understand that it was time to study a curriculum of my own making, one that was better suited for an aspiring farmer and writer, than that of a teacher.

I can honestly say that I look forward to the "Lucille Ball moments" of my day as I learn new skills, like how to set up electronet poultry fencing. My many daily failures make for great stories, if nothing else. In fact, failure feels okay to me now, since it indicates that I am learning new things and am willing to do them badly, because they matter to me, and because they are mine to do.

It is better to do your own duty
badly, than to perfectly do
another's; you are safe from harm
when you do what you should be doing.
--The Bhagavad Gita, 68



This post is just right! My birthday wish last year was to laugh at all my mistakes - I've spent a year laughing! I am Steve's Lucy as we live in love and joy. So happy that you are my neighbor!


Ha. Oh, how I wish I couldn't relate! :) I, too, have been on a hit and miss learning curve with chickens and sustainability. And then, this week, I'm beginning a class that I'm TEACHING to creatives and creative-wanna-bes. This will be a perfect icebreaker! I'm going to read it to the class. Thanks!

PS I'm also going to add your blog to my blog roll, if you don't mind...I'm over at citygirlfarming.wordpress. :)