In a twist, a college lesson at UW on how to fail

A UW lab, called the Resilience Lab, tries to spread the word that losing and winning are linked together. Several professionals at a recent event shared their stories on how they came back from failures.

The other day four accomplished professionals told an audience of high-achieving college students how those speakers have failed.

The speakers, an administrator and three faculty members at the University of Washington, delivered a message that is at odds with what the students have been taught, and even at odds with the norms of the institution itself. We all fail, they said. It’s a part of life, and it can be a catalyst for growth. The idea isn’t new, but it’s caught fire in recent years, as the pressure to be perfect reached ridiculous levels.

Institutions of higher learning brag about how many applicants they turn away each year. That focus on supposed perfection at elite colleges and universities trickled down all the way to elite preschools.

But for the past few years, there has been lots of talk about changing that. Sometimes there is even action with the talk.

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The UW (45 percent of applicants are accepted) has the Resilience Lab. Resiliency is trending. Harvard (acceptance rate 5.4 percent) has what it calls the Success/Failure Project, and Stanford (acceptance rate 4.8 percent) has its own Resilience Lab.

The lab’s goal is to help the university community see that failure is a necessary step in learning, and also to help people deal with the emotional costs of failure.

One of the ways the 2-year-old UW lab reaches students is through events in which faculty panels discuss their failures. I attended one of those sessions with a packed crowd and was struck by how deeply the faculty went into their actions and their hearts.

Four people shared their failures: Denzil Suite, vice president for student life; Christina Fong, who teaches in the Foster…

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