Failure is not falling but refusing to get up

25 Jan 2016


Chinese proverb

In the last blog I talked about the virtue of resourcefulness when faced with challenges or a deficiency in opportunity or a deficiency in … well … resources. I talked about scaling a wall if the doors and windows were shut, and how, though significantly harder, the resourceful will always be better equipped to take on the next wall.

We live in a time where entrepreneurship is increasingly celebrated as a means of getting ahead. The concepts of welfare and support are being looked at as, in some ways, counter-productive and encouraging of laziness or inertia. If there is always a helping hand to pull you up, no matter what, why bother trying? We are all being persuaded to not expect ‘hand outs’ and instead pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make our own way in the world. This may seem admirable and in tune with building self-sufficient individuals confident in their own agency and power to change their lives and those around them, but there are some important nuances to this philosophy that I feel should be addressed.

The idea that those with the boldest and best ideas succeed, that anyone can reach the top if they put their mind to it and encouraging those with challenging circumstances that nothing can stand in their way can be very positive. But success is often celebrated in vacuum – shorn of context. Those who have achieved something are admired, regardless of how they got there. Put bluntly, some people will find success will come relatively easily. Others will not. Someone learning the piano, who have musically minded parents, a piano teacher relative and a piano at home to practise whenever they need, may find their road to proficiency smooth and straightforward (though this of course does not negate their achievement). Another piano learner may have no access to a piano, parents who do not recognise music as a viable career opportunity and actively discourage it, and little money or contacts for lessons. If both students manage to get to grade 8, can it be said that one achieved more or deserved celebration it over the other? It’s difficult to say.

How then, does this affect how we look at failure? If that second piano student were to try everything in their power and fail, does that necessarily mean that they were not capable? Entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency and resourcefulness are all admirable qualities, but a life solely built around those can be brutal and unforgiving. A life in which there is no support, no encouragement, and failure is treated wholly on the terms that ‘you simply did not try hard enough’ can move into the realm of unfairness, and even discrimination. At Hammersmith Academy we expect our students to take ownership of their learning and their success, but we are with them every step of the way. We give as much encouragement and support as is required, but, importantly, we do not carry the students for them. We strongly believe that no matter what your circumstances, everyone has the potential and opportunity to succeed. In my opinion, to fail is not simply coming short of what you set out to achieve. Failure is instead using the challenges you face, or the setbacks you have experienced, as an excuse not to try. To have a dream of becoming a virtuoso piano player, but not quite getting there due to circumstances beyond your control, is one thing. Shrugging your shoulders and saying, ‘well I don’t have a piano, so I can’t play’ is quite another. Resourcefulness enables us to find a way, even if it’s not quite as far as we perhaps are capable of going. Sometimes circumstances are just too unforgiving. But you will never know how far you can go if you don’t try.

Gary Kynaston – Headteacher

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