Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Teaching Failure and Imperfection

In the fall semester I will have the opportunity to teach a unique class intent on bridging the gap for high schoolers entering a liberal arts college. This class, Intersections (listen closely and you may hear the collective sigh from my players who have begrudgingly taken this class), is a writing intensive exploration into human nature.  Granted, how many college freshman get their thrills by reading authors who don't have current status updates and even worse, writing thoughts deeper and longer than 140 characters?  I'll address my player's universal question of why they have to take this class later... perhaps in the fall during workouts. For now, I would like to share thoughts from a reading my class will soon be absorbing and why it not only matters for them, but for all of us, Audrey included.

The reading is an excerpt from Paul Loeb's "Soul of a Citizen".  While Loeb focuses on developing conviction to create positive social change, I couldn't help but wander off (I may have ADD). His points were spot on for developing conviction that creates change about anything. Personal events both now and in my past quickly came to mind. Loeb writes that significant change and the heros that create it are born out of persevering commitment, abundant failures and imperfection. So obviously he was referring to basketball.

Audrey's first bball shoes compared to me and my 8th grade compadres below. 

Okay, perhaps there are more correlations that just basketball, but I'm running with this one since I don't have a picture of Audrey with a softball to match my Rudd Little League pic.

It now just struck me that there shouldn't be snow in the background.  It didn't matter. Look at us. We were a bunch of tough guys. 
Okay, so commitment, failures and imperfections...

The more committed a player is to practice, the better she becomes. No argument there.

My younger sister, Bissy, was visiting this weekend to help us with Audrey, and undoubtedly to also get her baby fix. After going to the gym to workout, we headed to the court to shoot around for a bit.  Biss is a baller. She has had a very successful high school and college career, so I often go to her to bounce basketball ideas off of. We both agreed that our best level of play came after organized team ball. Why? Because failures became abundant. Gone were the scenarios of being punished for attempting the risky pass, or move that "you shouldn't do".   Once you are free to fail, you find that when you do so, you tend to "fail forward".

Ahh holy hell. I am going to digress for a bit because I (and many of you) need to take a good swipe at our mortal enemy.  I would be surprised if there were any more than a handful of young adults in this country that didn't suffer from this disease in some form or another. Have you ever wanted to do something yet didn't act because you felt you weren't ready enough, you didn't have enough knowledge about the situation, or perhaps the scenario wasn't exactly right?  Loeb calls it the "perfect standard".  The people we see as a success have been idolized and their achievements glorified.  We feel with certainly that we cannot achieve the lofty accomplishments that the "greats" have because we have these faults, and according to what we see and hear, the successful "greats" have none. They succeeded because they were different, special, flawless. This perfect standard paralyzes us through our imperfection. I won't shovel through the troves of stories that Loeb presents about our perfect heros' mass amounts of baggage. You'll either have to pick up his book or take my word for it. The bigger question that concerns me is why are so many of us infected with perfectionism, and most importantly to me right now, how can I not pass it on to Audrey?  While I don't have a scientific answer, I am willing to bet that our own good role-model intentions have something to do with it. My younger brother, Will, and I have a great relationship.
Day 1 of the Campbell brothers' epic Iowa Road Trip of '06. More about this later.
Yet it wasn't until the last couple of years when he started owning his education did he allude to something that caught me off guard.  He was under the impression that he wasn't as smart as myself when I was his age. He had no idea that his GPA was well above what mine was. Throughout our relationship growing up I chose to only show him my successes and always put my best face forward. Did I do him a disservice by not exposing my faults? This would have shown him that, while not perfect, one can still preserver and reach their goals.

I've gone on enough about the relevancy of these problems. Now, what do we do about them (and how can I shamelessly incorporate a few more pics of the baby)? How do we develop greater conviction and more change as a result? How can I raise Audrey so she has commitment, not afraid of failure and avoids the paralysis of perfectionism? If we can free ourselves from these burdens, we will sing, dance, play, win and laugh wearing a duck towel way more often.

I have three suggestions.

First: If you have a mentor or person whose path you idolize, break them down. Talk to them about their failures. If they are too far removed for a conversation, read an unbiased autobiography.  Also, be sure to be open about the challenging path you have gone through when interacting with others who look up to you.

Second: Practice your shooting against the wall. In coaching, I always want my players practicing their shooting form off the court, away from a basket. In the absence of a basket, the shooter doesn't get discouraged that her shot isn't going in (perfection). Instead she can focus on learning and enjoying the fundamentals that will make her a better player.  Focus on enjoying the process. If you are all about the end goal, then perhaps this particular game is not for you.  By enjoying the process, you will learn and adapt along the way and become quite well at your style. The result?  The shot you take may not be perfect  and swish every time, but your endurance, adaptability and passion for the game will more than make up for the "perfect you" who would still be sitting on the sidelines afraid to take another shot.

Thrice: Remember the magic! This gets back to my duck towel comment earlier, and to those of you who were at Tracey and my wedding, this may sound familiar. In fact, both of us just watched our wedding video for our anniversary last week.  The message is simple and the story is wonderfully written (Thank you Leah). Here is an excerpt.
"Remember the magic. Those words, that day, that promise, have come to mean a great deal to me. They are an instruction in the practice of being fully open to receive the magic, the sacred potential, available in every moment, regardless of whether it is what you wanted or expected, and regardless of the outcome. It is a reminder that what counts is that you bring your best, noble self to whatever you choose to do." (Badertscher, Leah; Genius Hour 1, 2011)

So play for the sake of playing. Enjoy what each moment brings, whether it is during a grueling workout, the middle of the day at the office, or a chance to climb in a tree house and watch the clouds pass with someone special.

Don't hesitate to be your own best self. I'll leave you with a quote that Loeb borrowed from the 18th century Hasidic rabbi Susya.

"God will not ask me why I was not Moses. He will ask me why I was not Susya."


No comments:

Post a Comment