Earlier this week I came across an article by David Weedmark on “dealing with setbacks,” and it got me thinking about setbacks in my own life. I found myself moving through my days preoccupied by memories of failed efforts. As a leader attempting to effect tech-based change in an established organization, it often seems as though I am more familiar with failures than with successes. 

Yesterday, I had a job interview, and one of the questions focused on how I deal with failures. Again, I found myself reflecting on situations in which I’ve invested considerable time, effort, and energy into a venture only to see it fail. I responded to the interview question quickly, and I pointed out that I have the ability to see the positive, that I roll with the punches, and that I learn from such experiences. However, in retrospect, I don’t believe that I gave the question proper attention - either in consideration or in answer. On the surface, this question seems to be focused on my character - how do I deal with the situation? Setbacks, however, are of more value than revealing my ability to adapt. I realized that failures take a prominent place in my memories because of what they have added to my life and learning. 

In my experience, success can be fleeting and temporary. The successful adoption of an initiative, implementation of a policy, or practical use of technology often end up seeming like a bit of a flash in the pan. They are great when they happen, but all too quickly, my mind looks for what is next. The setbacks are different. They prompt reflection, reconsideration, and remixing. They stick with me. The setbacks are where I have gained the most profound and impactful understanding. After the initial blow to the ego that failure brings, my mind races to evaluate what went wrong. I want to look at the situation through different lenses in order to understand what has happened. Dealing with setbacks has strengthened my knowledge and character. Failures are not something to avoid or to toss aside as simply something to bounce back from. They are something to be appreciated.  

Now, I am left thinking: How do we teach students and teachers to view setbacks as something to embrace and draw from rather than fear?