"Everybody Flubs" by Head of the Upper School Michael Denning
Itzhak Perlman and Josef Federman have built international reputations in their respective fields, music and journalism. Perlman is perhaps the most recognized and celebrated violinist living today while Federman is the longtime Associated Press (AP) Bureau Chief in Jerusalem. Last spring, they met on the occasion of the announcement of Perlman as the winner of The Genesis Prize, an award for lifetime achievement that is often referred to as Israel’s Nobel Prize. It would have been perfectly understandable if their conversation had just been about accomplishments, impressive resumés and awards. As their interview was coming to its conclusion, however, the discussion turned to a different form of success: learning to face, overcome and learn from mistakes and failure. Here is a video of Perlman offering Federman suggestions for his son, himself a budding musician.
On the Wednesday before winter break, Maria Trozzi met with Nobles parents and guardians to talk about how best we can (and should) support and nurture healthy, independent and thriving children. The author of Talking With Children About Loss, Trozzi is a world-renowned professor, counselor and consultant for a wide array of ambitious, thriving, competitive schools, universities and organizations, including the Navy Special Warfare Command (aka the Navy SEALs). In her remarks, Trozzi spoke about her work helping educators and leaders to prepare young people for the setbacks, disappointments and failures that are inevitable, even in a life well led.
While Perlman reminds us that “everybody flubs”—even the world’s most successful and acclaimed classical musicians—Trozzi goes a step further by asserting that failure is not only inevitable but an extremely necessary part of a good education. Through facing and then reflecting upon those moments when we come up short of expectations, make mistakes and exercise poor judgment—moments endemic to the human experience—we develop the problem-solving tools and coping skills necessary to move forward in a healthy, more mature and confident way. Although disguised in the moment, these opportunities are actually, as bestselling author and psychologist Dr. Wendy Mogel writes, blessings, opportunities for which we should be grateful (1).
Our students know that they can bring home news of a victory, high grades, an acceptance to a highly-selective college, and other successes. But can they bring home their disappointments, failures, setbacks and poor decisions—those inevitable experiences that cause them the most stress? If we believe in the premise that failures and flubs are inevitable and potentially the most valuable of teachers, how can we deprive our children of our support as they endeavor to work through them? Sure, there is nothing that feels better than watching our children succeed and smile, and to celebrate those moments with them when they do. But, ironically, should we also be more thankful (and looking) for opportunities to support our children as they work through moments of frustration, disappointment and failure? While acknowledging that doing this work may be the hardest thing we do as parents, guardians and educators, could it also be our most important of responsibilities?
New calendar years and new semesters provide great opportunities for renewal, reform and resolution. As you talk with your children about their new year’s resolutions, last semester’s successes and failures, and goals and hopes for the coming year, please take some time to think about how you will work to keep your eyes on the proverbial prize—developing a confident, healthy, and independent young adult, one who knows they have the tools and support to face their own shortcomings and anything life throws at them. If Itzhak Perlman can talk about his many mistakes and failures and all he learned from them, we can too, and we must teach our children to do the same. I wish you the very best for a wonderful 2017.
1 - Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. (2008). The Blessings of a Skinned Knee (Scribner); Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. (2011). The Blessings of a B- (Scribner).