“I’d love to hear all about your idea!”

“Well, that is a great idea, but we should table that for a time when we can fully devote tangible resources for optimal execution.”

I am shocked by how little time adults spend “doing.” It seems like we spend all day preparing to do, or managing those who are supposed to do, or persuading to do. We rush to meetings, only to end up needing to meet again to go over what happened in the previous meeting. We review emails. We listen to others pontificate. We enable and endure the bureaucratic processes of organizations filled with people pursuing their own interests.

And when we do have those rare moments of productivity, we are critiqued–not for our growth but for the political gain of another. Our hardiness is tested. Our capacity to overcome failing is tried.

“That’s just how it is here.”

Students have long been told that a variety of coursework across several disciplines is the best preparation for the myriad challenges of entering into the “real world.” We teach students that though they may not ever employ their knowledge of photosynthesis, understanding this phenomenon of botany will engender new synaptic connections and general neuroplasticity. We challenge students so they can develop and create a scaffolding for living amongst their peers. Yet, it would seem, that in today’s modern reality this preparation may not be enough.

“No really, that is the way it is here.”

Secondary (and to an extent, primary) schooling has changed little over the last fifty years. While types of schools and their curricula have expanded, the essential schooling model has remained all while the employment market has utterly transformed. One must ask, are we preparing students for a post-graduation world that doesn’t exist?

“I like your idea, but there isn’t any funding.”

Long gone are the jobs of a lifetime (and the pensions they came with). Long gone is the loyalty between employer and employee. Instead, the mutual utility threshold is such that employees jump ship, and employers run their workers ragged.

In the past, employees could reasonably assume that if they sacrificed for their company, they would be rewarded in increased pay and opportunity. While this may exist for some today, for many it is a long-forgotten phenomenon.

Today we live amongst brands: big brands, small brands, personal brands. And, like any organizational construct, there are conflicts. Today we spend our time jockeying for the advancement of our own brand while attempting to maintain the needs of our companies’ brands. Schools need to address this dialectic by generating spaces in which students can learn about this process, but most importantly, schools must allow students to fail. Miserably. Completely.

Students need to learn the sting of failure, but particularly how to deal with it and how to grow from it. I see many young people slaying the world, but I do not see schools designing spaces that optimize each student’s full, distinctive potential. We learn the most when our faces are in the dirt, when our brains hurt and our bodies are shattered. We grow best under the gravity of discovery and the weight of new perspectives. Too often students are denied the opportunity to engage in a world where they are fully imperfect beings. We protect them from the world and from themselves. Students are disallowed the perspectives necessary to traverse a harsh world where one’s triumph is another’s defeat. When we fail, we are given the opportunity to build our resiliency, and today’s reality demands strength through this type of exercised fortitude. Schools need to prepare students to fail and to learn from those failures.

“I’ll have to take that to my boss, I’ll let you know what I hear.”

High school teaches us everything we need to learn about people, and it should also teach us to channel those learned realities into the world as it is. Entrepreneurship should be a cornerstone of the education process as it teaches many of the skills the market is demanding of new employees: shrewd attention to detail, savvy use of personal marketing, brand-oriented and data-driven decision making, risk taking, and human capital management.

“We really appreciate everything you’ve done for us, but you just haven’t been here long enough.”

Many of my ideas have been turned down with sweetly phrased rejection, and often I struggled to understand why the content of my idea was not sufficient. In time, I grew to understand that it was often not about my idea, but rather the political realities of the space my ideas would inhabit if implemented. I learned to continue pushing my ideas while refining and reforming their narrative.

“Maybe in a few years.”

As I work on my graduate degree, I have been reminded of the importance of failure. It is through failure that some of the greatest contributions to mankind have surfaced (penicillin comes to mind). I feel confident that many of the masters of science, philosophy, and art had series of failures. The wunderkinder of Silicon Valley are sitting on a heap of failed products, betas, and launches.

Yet, those failures taught lessons and those lessons endowed value.

As globalization brings us closer together, schools need to better prepare students to live in a world that demands failure in exchange for the keys to success.


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