This weekend I traveled to Saratoga Springs, NY, where I was lucky enough to be invited to guest speak at a few Skidmore College business classes. It was a great trip. The weather was beautiful and the classes exceeded all expectations. I was particularly impressed by the students and their ambition, intelligence and drive to learn. The whole weekend got me thinking about my college experience and what I learned back then that helps me now in my career.

One of the most important things I learned in college is how to fail. When I say failure – I’m not talking about failure due to lack of effort or failure at a minor/inconsequential task. I’m talking about trying as hard as you can at something important and failing. It’s certainly not a skill that’s emphasized in education – and with all the pressures around maintaining flawless GPAs, some students may do everything in their power to avoid failure. It’s even gotten to the point where students will shop around for the classes they know will be the easiest, just to guarantee they will not fail. This is wrong! College students should not avoid failure – they should embrace it! College is one of the only places where you can fail without having to deal with real repercussions (such as loss of a job or financial security).

A college career without failure is an incomplete experience, because after college (with few exceptions) failure cannot always be avoided. Learning how to respond to failure – and knowing how to turn failure today into a win tomorrow – is something that everyone should experience prior to entering the working world.

The truth is, the best learning experiences are not marked with A’s, they’re marked with F’s.

The Value of Failure
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  • I agree with you – and of all places, college is pretty safe.

    But: failure is never seen as a good thing, and there are tremendous pressures to avoid failure at all costs.

    It’s sad, because we never really learn from our successes. Failure is something we try hard to understand, to learn from, and not to repeat. And while repetition is dangerous, even it’s not unavoidable – I’m always skeptical of (interview advice) people who claim to have learned their lesson, in its entirety, from a failure such that they’ll never do it again. That, to me, only signifies that they didn’t understand the reason for their failure in the first place – only a few superficial factors which led to it.

    I also think it’s pretty hard to fail in college, or at least at Skidmore. God knows I tried pretty hard, once, to fail a term paper and ended up getting a B+. Everything I could short of not handing it in…

  • jennifer

    Nice post and sound message! However you certainly can fail at Skidmore if you get entangled with their campus security.

    Just wanted to get a word of caution out there about our personal experience with this school. You would think that a small Liberal Arts college in NY would be pretty open minded and keep their focus on the education and well being of students, but we have not found this to be the case.

    Their campus security has recently stopped carrying guns, but the head of campus security still thinks he works for the police department and is definitely a loose cannon.

    Their supposed ‘integrity board’ is a scam, with the head of campus security and a dean calling the shots – the student members are just puppets.

    So beware parents and students! If you make a silly mistake and happen to be in the room when somebody else throws a beer bottle out of the window, they are not interested in making into a learning/growth experience out if for those who are only tangentially involved. My son was threatened by security to give up the name of the person who threw the bottle even though that was a violation of civil rights.

    There is no fair representation, nor real justice for students in this school. Don’t trust in their processes because they have their own agenda and do not feel they need to respect the rights of their students on campus.