Anchored to Learning




Observing someone discover a passion is fascinating. My 6-year-old is currently consumed by building and toppling dominos. Not the classic white dominos with black dots, but colorful dominos that have been made expressly for building structures or lines and then knocking them down. That’s right. My kid sets up tiny rectangles only to knock them over again. He wakes up, builds dominos. Home from school, builds dominos. Eats dinner, talks about dominos. 

My favorite bi-product of this passion is the fact that over the last 6 months, his previous disdain for making mistakes has gotten worn down by the constant exposure to “fails”. When building a big setup with hundreds of dominos, it’s practically impossible not to knock down a segment before you’re ready or make a mistake that leads to the dominos locking up or not falling as intended. When he first started, he would weep when he made a mistake. We are talking tears flying off the sides of his face. Now he just breathes, considers what happened, and continues working, armed with the knowledge gained from the fail. 

“Many of us unintentionally put maintaining control or avoiding failure on a higher pedestal than learning. We end up holding tightly to our old ways of doing things instead of allowing ourselves to fail fast, learn and evolve.”

Watching my kid’s desire to learn a new, challenging trick override any fear or hesitation he has, has been inspiring. He doesn’t sit and wonder and worry and analyze and get anxious about what will happen if he makes another mistake. He takes note of what caused the fail and takes action based on that new information. As a result, his domino building skills have improved very, very quickly. His ability to step back, observe a set up and see where it needs to be adjusted in order for it to fall well is incredible. Because he’s made so many mistakes and learned from them, he can spot lots of fails before they happen. 

Furthermore, because he feels safe failing and is passionate about the work being created, he pushes through his disappointment/frustration more easily, leading to more intricate and high-quality designs. 

As an almost 40-year-old person emerging from a pandemic – now acutely aware of how little I control in a new, stark way – I’ve found myself circling around decisions and defaulting to analyzing vs. action far more frequently than I used to. I don’t want to make a mistake with what little agency I have! Observing my kid over the last six months has shown me what can happen when someone anchors into learning vs. achieving or avoiding failure. They will likely get better faster because they keep trying new things and applying their learning as they go.

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