Yesterday I was talking about final grades with my students.  It’s that time in the semester that I tend to lose the interest of my seniors and others who are feeling more enthusiastic about their summer plans than about finishing out their coursework, so I was giving them some advice about seeing it through to the end.  Just two more weeks!

As that conversation evolved, I mentioned to them that I had failed some classes when I was an undergraduate and that it wasn’t the end of the world.  They seemed so surprised when I admitted that I’d failed!  A professor who failed?

I explained to them the context: that I was in a highly competitive science program, I was struggling with some serious health issues, and passing classes was sometimes beyond my capabilities.  I also told them that I re-took the classes that I failed until I passed them.  I didn’t give up, I just kept trying.  And somehow I knew that a D or an F on my scorecard didn’t translate into a failure, it was a challenge to try again and do better the next time.

Speaking about those times I didn’t pass a class also opened the door for me to talk to my students about their grades.  I let them know that I hoped for them to earn the highest possible marks in my class but that if they didn’t–and even if they failed–I still hoped that they would carry what they learned into their future careers and lives.  Because the measure of success is not how many students “pass” my class, but how many times I see those lightbulbs go on over their heads.  And those moments don’t necessarily translate into a rubric that gives every student a high grade.

What I have learned from “failing” in my life is that it’s only a temporary setback.  I apply this all of the time in the ways that I use technology–both for work and in my personal life.  A technology snafu is not necessarily a “fail,” it is merely a chance to do better next time.  Moreover, I expect new things to fail a few times before they succeed.  Because new things are hard, and the struggle to make them work is simply part of the process.