Failure Unifies Us and Should Be Celebrated as Part of Learning | Wyatt Turner | 3 Min Read

May 17, 2023

My experience at Vermont Academy (V.A.) has been primarily focused on connection. I wasn’t thriving in my previous academic environment, and connections with my teachers and peers here have brought a sense of belonging. As an athlete, musician, and student, it means a lot to be able to find a rhythm with all of these people and to have a network of support behind whatever I do. 

I consider myself predominantly a reflective learner, and as a result, I’ve fit right in here at V.A. It’s important for me to be broadening my definition of self-awareness, and the school is a place where it feels safe to do so. Examining past actions can feel daunting, as the newer version of myself can feel a sense of regret when looking at a less experienced version. That regret, though, is completely superfluous, because as a student, it’s more or less guaranteed that I am going to end up missing some sort of opportunity. In my experience as a student musician, performances often end up feeling like the pinnacle of hard work, so when you fumble, whether small or big, it feels like it detracts from the value of the challenge. This past winter, I participated in the Vermont District VI high school jazz ensemble. Musicians selected for the festival went through an audition process, and as a result, my expectations for myself were high. The practices went well and it was exceptionally fun to play with such committed musicians, but nonetheless, as I approached the stage for our performance, my blood pressure rose. The beauty and resulting fear of music coming out of its impermanence whispered to me that there are no do-overs. Much to my chagrin, when I reached my solo, I played a section out of key. In the moment and immediately following, I was filled with surprise and disappointment, but it was all internal. I was the only one who was caught off guard, and ultimately, I was in complete control of how I was feeling in that circumstance. For the sake of both my mental state and my bass playing, I embraced my personal failure,  smiled, and carried on. 

V.A. has reinforced this notion of mine that the best thing for me to do in response to missing an opportunity/failing is not to criticize myself, but to learn from the reasoning behind why I didn’t achieve it. This mindset simultaneously strengthens my coursework and improves my self-confidence. Failure is one of the few things that unify us as people, and as a result, it’s my belief that it should be celebrated. Why do we pretend failure should be avoided?

Building self-confidence is hugely important for reflective learning in my experience, as without it, you lose control of your academic experience. Ironically, having that control means I don’t think I would change anything even if I could. Every single experience I’ve had has taught me more about myself and led to who I am at this moment in time. And of course, there’s room for improvement, there always is. 

My school gives students space to grow. It achieves this not by projecting expectations of others onto us, but by listening. Although we’re still in a developmental period of our lives, being able to establish honest lines of communication with our teachers usually guides us to independence. Personally, my interests lie predominantly in the world of science. While V.A. might not have the most cutting-edge facilities, we’re given the support to pursue our own interests and use the world around us as an advanced laboratory. 

It breaks down barriers when in a small community you have such a diverse pool of talented and enthusiastic musicians, athletes, writers, and actors. Anything and everything is on the table, it’s just a question of whether you want to pursue it. Understanding that this is a privilege is essential for using these resources, as their availability is ultimately limited. We, as high schoolers, have to make decisions about what our futures look like. This is where a lot of the fear of failure is found in other high schoolers and has the potential to be reinforced by those they look up to. Set them free so they can become healthy learners that celebrate and accept failure.

Wyatt Turner is a senior at Vermont Academy. He will attend the University of Vermont in the fall.

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