"You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it."
-- Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo
Life is scary. From grade school to retirement we are constantly thrust into a culture of comparison. Whether statistical stratification that comes from standardized testing ("I'm in the top 18% of my age group nationwide"), or job performance evaluations that identify whether or not we qualify for a management track, we are constantly being compared to other people. If we are not careful, we begin to invest in this comparative stock. If that happens, most of us start playing the game of life not to lose instead of playing to win. We maintain status quo to avoid being on the bottom, rather than innovating to try and rise to the top.
In his best seller, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell explains the problem with this sort of thinking. He points out that in the closing minutes of a football game, if a team has the lead and the other team has the ball, some coaches choose to implement a scheme known as "Prevent Defense." In this scheme, the defensive team changes what has worked for them up to this point in the game and they begin to drop farther back, attempting to let the other team advance the ball some, but keeping them in front so as to prevent a score. Maxwell agrees with the late John Madden who said, "The only thing a prevent defense does, is prevent you from winning." Maxwell believes you should never play not to lose. You should actively pursue success.
The issue is rooted fear. Is the teen willing to risk the embarrassment of looking ignorant and ask a question in class anyways? Will the 20-something risk social acceptance and live under her means, in spite of the pressure to "look successful?" Does the 30-something take action on his entrepreneurial opportunity, or stay comfortable with an adequate pay-check that provides for his family? Is the 40-something willing to reinvent, reimagine, and refocus her life? Will the 50-something rest on the excuse of "this is who I am" or will he jump in feet first and capitalize on a lifetime of experiences? Does the 60-something give up because she is too old, or does she dig in an learn to do things in a new way?
I grew up thinking of courage as the willingness to jump out of a plane or to jump into a battle. I now realize that, in may cases, it takes much more authentic courage to make the decision to take a big risk; to choose to risk embarrassment, failure, and comfort. In my classroom, as a teacher, I did everything I could to encourage my students to risk failure in order to create the potential for substantial growth. If you define success as growth beyond current ability, then you have to be courageous enough to move out of your comfort zone and risk failure because you are taking a giant leap.
In this endeavor, it is critical to understand that success must be personally defined. The definition cannot be fundamentally based on a comparison to others. If it is, then the conclusion inevitably becomes that if you're not the best, you're not successful. There are many problems with this line of reasoning. First, there is practically no way to define "the best." Secondly, success cannot be based on numerical information alone. People's stories matter and qualitative analysis of success must be taught to students. Additionally, if we assume success occurs when a goal is reached, then we need to carefully craft our goals to model an appreciation of the journey (i.e. make goals about improvement instead of destination...I want to be a better actor rather than, I want to be a the next Brando). There are too many extraneous factors that you cannot control to measure success by the destination. Instead measure the things you can control and work hard to do those things very well.
For students, it is critical that we fight the current system and teach them their self-worth is defined in who they are and who they are capable of becoming. We must find a way to convince them that they cannot and are not defined by a comparative statistic. We must empower them to see beyond their current horizon and to be willing to take control and switch paths. People can always choose to change the trajectory of their lives--it just usually takes 20-seconds of insane courage to do this when life is already relatively comfortable. We must teach this to our kids and we must model it ourselves. Don't play to not lose. Exercise 20 seconds of insane courage and play to win!
GE Foundation Leadership Summit
Leveraging Innovative Technologies for Learning
Texas Open Innovation Conference
Mar 27 - 29
Emerging Innovations in Education
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FFT Leading & Learning
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reMake Education Summit
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National Governor's Association
Teaching Governor's to Code
US Dept of Education
Round Table with Secretary John King.
K-12 Pathways for CS
Ed Foo--Making in Education (breakout session)
K-12 Education Panels
Strategies for Reducing the Racial Gap in Computing
Boston Museum of Science
Teaching with Toys--Using Robotics as a Gateway for Computer Science
US Dept of Education
MSP Computer Science Proposition
§ The Great Miscalculation
§ Five Facts About Failing
§ Oh! That's STEM?
§ My Mom Isn't
an Engineer and That's