I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane. First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp. His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.
In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals. ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say. ‘You’ll kill yourself.’ ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’ I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful! I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim. Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level. I went all over the sky. I couldn’t fly. My lesson was a total failure. But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better. I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’
Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures. He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good. He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit. Impressive.
Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first. That is wisdom for all ages. We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time. That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.
Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress. Then encourage them some more. “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”