“This isn’t flying, this is falling with style!”
Eight-year-old me cheered as Buzz Lightyear embraced the very line Woody had first flung as an insult towards him. It was a joyous, fist-punching-in-the-air moment in Toy Story, as the two companions soared away from imminent danger. Magic!
At that moment, the idea of falling with style officially captured my heart.
As I think back to that young version of me, I remember always having a pen and paper in my hand. Always writing. Always tackling the hardest puzzles I could find. Always eager to raise my hand and learn more.
Like Buzz, my superpower was following my instincts without fear of what others thought. I learned in a way that gave me joy.
But somewhere along the way, I lost that superpower
I began obsessively chasing after the top grades at school and any award I could hold onto to prove I was smart. This focus on recognition led me to play it safe in my learning. I stuck to the curriculum and did what I needed to do to pass the exams. Turning my attention anywhere else was not a risk worth failing for, and I lost my love for writing along the way.
In Carol Dweck’s research around fixed vs. growth mindsets, she describes the two mindsets I’d found myself swinging between:
Even these young children conformed to the characteristics of one of the two mindsets — those with “fixed” mentality stayed on the safe side, choosing the easier puzzles that would affirm their existing ability, articulating to the researchers their belief that smart kids don’t make mistakes; those with the “growth” mindset thought it an odd choice to begin with, perplexed why anyone would want to do the same puzzle over and over if they aren’t learning anything new.
The ability to embrace the possibility of mistakes is core to developing a growth mindset, while those with a fixed mindset view such mistakes as failures to avoid.
In January, I began a new journey as an apprentice for the company I’ve worked at for seven years. Since then, I have been learning to code amongst a team of people with years of experience in the discipline. The most challenging lesson on this journey has been trying to regain my childhood wisdom and embrace mistakes as an opportunity to learn more.
A developer I respect very much provided sage advice to proactively “get good at failing” in other areas of my life. Another agreed that this is the very core of coding. I’ve gone about this through a return to writing, taking up several new hobbies as a complete beginner, and publishing to the very blog that you are now reading. Along the way, I’ve made a jumble of many a new recipe, botched several sewing projects, and failed in all the ways you can imagine.
In my coding, I’ve introduced bugs to production, asked for reviews for code that I already felt wasn’t great, and received critical feedback on code that I felt was great. The project I’ve been working on is one that even our senior developers note as being highly complex. I’ve been humbled daily and the thought of quitting most certainly ran through my mind in the face of the “failures” I listed.
But, my inner child won over in teaching me that failing in this context isn’t a negative, as long as there is learning and growth. I’ve kept trying and I’ve kept showing up. You could say that I’m learning to “fail with style”. And that, my friends, is indistinguishable from flying.