Succeeding at Failure

Kayaking SuccessWhen I was a junior in high school, my drama teacher set my class two challenges, each designed to get us thinking creatively:

  1. Write down as many uses for a brick as you can think of.
  2. Draw three creatures that do not exist, and that are combinations of a bunch of different animals. Use as much detail as you can.

Thinking CreativelyThe first challenge was a cinch. I’ve been writing fiction ever since I could hold a pen, and still can switch on daydreams as real as a TV show whenever I get bored. If you ask me to use my imagination to think up impossible things, I’m on solid ground.

Sure, I listed the usual (boring) uses for a brick: house construction, paperweight, impromptu dumb-bell, etc. But then came the fun ones: a piece of a giant’s Lego set, an impenetrable fortress for ant-armies, Twinkie-holder, napkin ring at a brick-layers’ convention, etc.

All this is to say, if you’re looking for something to do with that pile of bricks you have lying around your house for some reason, I’m your girl.

But then came challenge number two. Sure I could think of imaginary animals—how about a zebra-striped cow, with the head of a horse, the legs of a mini-elephant, and the horns of a water buffalo? Oh, and it can talk like a parrot! Oh, and maybe it can jump like a kangaroo! Oh yeah, the ideas were coming fast.

There was just one problem. I can’t draw. Not at all. Even stick figures are a struggle for me. I stared at that blank piece of paper, listening to the excited pencil-scratching coming from my neighbors’ desks, and my cheeks began to burn. I was the only one not drawing.

Venturing OutI just sat there, with my head down, until the activity was over. I couldn’t even let myself try. I couldn’t even permit a doodle. I couldn’t take the risk that the beautiful image I had in my head might not translate onto paper. Better to be scolded by my teacher for failing to complete the activity, than for it to be known that I might be less than excellent at something. So I just sat there, almost in tears, until the papers were collected.

I’ve thought about that moment a lot since then. Why hadn’t I even tried? Why had I assumed the result would be that horrible, without taking the simple step of just beginning? Why had I decided by the end of elementary school that I Am Not An Artist? End of story, no question about it, no need to try.

So many times, both in camp and out of camp, I see young girls give up on things before they’ve even begun.

“No, I can’t take pottery, I’m not artsy.”

“No way am I going to try out for basketball, I’m not athletic at all.”

“I can’t take the swim test. I’ve never been much of a swimmer.”

Taking the LeapSomehow, it has become part of our mindset that our talents, our levels of intelligence and understanding, and our potential for achievement are set in stone from the very beginning. The thoughts that were racing through my mind that day in drama class consisted entirely of, I was bad at drawing in elementary school. Therefore, I am bad at drawing now. Therefore, I will always be bad at drawing, no matter how hard I try. Therefore, I should not try.

I know I’m not the only one that thinks this way. We have become so afraid of failure, because we think that that failure defines us even more than the successes that come afterwards. Sure, we know that da Vinci didn’t paint the Mona Lisa the first time he ever touched a paintbrush, and yet somehow we still think that if we fail the first time, then we will inevitably fail every time, with no shot at improvement.

But this is wrong. This is so wrong! Why should I, at 23 years old, have already decided which categories I belong in (Good Writer, Good Reader, Not-Good Drawer, Not-Good Dancer), and given up on changing any of them? Why should a 10 year old camper stand frozen at the edge of the dock on swim demo day, just because somebody told her one time that she wasn’t a very fast swimmer? Why should we throw away the chance to surprise ourselves with new, enjoyable experiences, in an attempt to save our pride from the sting of failure?

Dancing QueensSo here’s the challenge (you knew this was coming): allow yourself to be bad at something once a day. It can be a brand new experience, or an old one that you gave up on long ago. If you’re a bad dancer, then dance like a crazy person with your friends, and laugh when they tell you you’re not so good. If you gave up on piano after one lesson, sit down and bang out “Chopsticks” on the keys, and laugh when you hit a bad note. If you have always wanted to be a poet, then write down that poem that you have bouncing around in your head, and then laugh when you realize it sounds more like a Hallmark Card than Emily Dickinson.

That’s right: laugh. Train yourself to find the joy in failure. When that sinking feeling comes along that tells you to run away from the challenge before it becomes too much, then laugh it away, and try again. And again. And again. And again. Sure, maybe you’ll never be dancing at center stage in Radio City Music Hall, or tickling the ivories like Stevie Wonder, or becoming the next US Poet Laureate—but hey, maybe you will. You’ll never know unless you embrace the possibility that you might just fail, and then go for it anyway.

As for me, I’m still not a great drawer. But I hope that Mr. McFarland will accept this late addition to the creativity project. May I present, the Zebreleffow:

The Zebreleffow

A Lot in our Neighborhood

Girls Camp Swimming
Rock CLimbing Girl

High above Rockbrook, but still on the camp property, is Castle Rock, a bright grey rock outcropping so large it’s visible all over the nearby river valley. You may have seen it if you looked up and east standing on the porch of the Hillside Lodge at camp. Once you hike to the top, up a beautiful wooded (also steep!) trail, there’s a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In addition though, Castle Rock offers us some really great rock climbing. There are several routes to choose from- a zig-zagging hand crack called “Shazam,” and delicate finger crack called “Dragon’s Tail,” and a long, high exposed route called “Bam,” to name a few. When we combine all of these routes with trips we can take into the National Forest, there’s a lot of rock to climb in our neighborhood! And climb we do!

Down at the Rockbrook lake, especially during the two free swim periods, girls are busy in several ways. Some are addicted to the water slide (affectionately known as “Big Samantha” …for no reason other than it being a name that’s mostly stuck!), shooting down and heading right back to the top along the boardwalk. Others are happily perfecting their dives and cannonballs off of the diving board. Some are swimming laps to be awarded membership in the “Mermaid Club,” which earns them a special treat at the end of the session. Today a group of girls was trying to climb up on a floating tube, while others were placidly floating by. In every case, the girls are enjoying the cool mountain spring water of the lake.

Journalism Camp Activity Girls

Meeting in the log cabin we call “Goodwill,” which is named after the plantation in South Carolina where Nancy Carrier, Rockbrook’s founder was born, there is a regular activity called “Journalism.” This is one of the more peaceful options for the girls at camp because it focuses on writing. It could mean creative writing- poetry, short stories, even movie themes -taking surveys or recording interviews around camp. What makes this activity particularly popular with the campers are the writing games they often play. One of these is called “M.A.S.H.” (which stands for “Mansion, Apartment, Shack, Hut”) and it involves the girls writing a list of words fitting into categories like where you’ll live, who’ll be your spouse, what your job will be, and then, using random selections from each category, fashioning a coherent story they can present to the group.  These can be pretty hilarious and fun for the girls, and even more so since they are supposed to predict the future life of the writer.  Once per session, the Journalism activity also publishes a camp-wide newspaper comprised of the favorite writings from the class.

A group of Juniors today were surprised with a trip out to Dolly’s Ice Cream stand for a sweet treat. If you haven’t heard of Dolly’s yet, you will from your girls. It’s a great, classic ice cream stand located near the entrance to the Pisgah Forest, a perfect spot for passersby to stop. Quite ingeniously, Dolly created special ice cream flavors, combinations of flavors and toppings really, and named them after all of the local summer camps. You’d be correct to guess that lots of juniors ended up ordering a cone of “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion.” Very yummy stuff.

Summer Camp Counselor and Camper
Summer Camp Counselor and Camper eating ice cream