Words like mistake, failure, and error can be abrasive. People may shy away from using them or dread hearing them in reference to their own work. Confronting mistakes takes vulnerability but, sometimes, produces guilt. So much so that we may avoid taking risks that could result in unmet expectations. Fear of making a mistake can be so great that we don’t even make a decision.
The more we shy away from the possibility that we don’t live up to expectations, the more we hinder our ability to grow. Failure, errors, and mistakes are opportunities. They are moments that teach us empathy, reflection, and resilience.
I remember a particularly rough meeting at NSTS where we faced some not-so-great realities and brainstormed solutions. Our CEO took a moment to remind us that these were “growing pains,” and the important thing was to learn from them and move forward. In many ways, I believe this shows that NSTS embodies the growth mindset and learned optimism we encourage in the youth in our free afterschool program.
When we talk about having a growth mindset, we mean people that “believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others).” This is contrary to a fixed mindset that revolves around the belief that talents are innate, natural-born gifts. Fixed mindsets believe you either have it in you—or you don’t. According to research by Carol Dweck, a fixed mindset is less like to achieve goals.
With a growth mindset, one isn’t paralyzed by the fear of facing their own vulnerabilities, weaknesses, or mistakes. When we worked to expand the Next Step To Success program, our number one goal was to face challenges and learn from any mistakes we made along the way. If we remained afraid to face our mistakes, that meeting would have resulted in hurt feelings, bruised egos, and no desire to go further; however, I witnessed firsthand the very nature of a growth mindset when the leaders above me prioritized learning lessons and improving over anything else.
NSTS showed me that a commitment to learning is a commitment to success. I realized that the moments in my professional life when I was most driven by my fear of making mistakes or seeming incompetent were the same moments when I found myself stagnant and without life lessons that made me a better employee.
Each day, NSTS Success Coaches encourage Norfolk teens to develop growth mindsets. I am grateful and astonished to witness them grasp such life-changing principles in their adolescence. I can’t wait to see how many great accomplishments will come from them exercising their growth mindsets when they enter the workforce.
Learning from our mistakes takes patience and emotional regulation. When you take a group of people as passionate about a united goal as NSTS staff are about youth development, then strong emotions come into play. Emotionally intelligent people can manage their emotions better and understand how they impact others, thus improving their conflict resolution. Emotionally intelligent individuals can also bounce back quicker after mistakes or disappointments.
It’s normal to be disappointed when we do not meet expectations and upset when our mistakes negatively impact others. How we handle those emotions and move past them can be a part of our growth and an opportunity to improve. I learned so much about who I was as a leader and how I could improve my reactions to making mistakes by working through them at NSTS.
One of the traits I admire in NSTS Success Coaches is how they redirect youth that react poorly to making a mistake. NSTS creates a safe, nurturing environment that teaches young people there will always be bumps in the road, and we will always be able to overcome them. I have seen youth improve in their impulse control and emotional responses. Our students learn how to see an unfortunate mistake as an inspiring lesson.
NSTS owes part of its growth to the ability of the team to take feedback. Partners, families, staff, and youth are consistently encouraged to share meaningful suggestions and participate in the problem-solving process.
As mentioned before, making a mistake can feel very vulnerable. In the same way, receiving feedback may make us uncomfortable.
Working at NSTS showed me how much greatness can come from accepting feedback, especially from those you serve. Giving the families a space to give earnest reviews of what we were doing and contribute thoughtful suggestions led to some of the greatest parts of our programs. Cooking lessons, dozens of field trips, daily menus, and tons of activities came from the ideas of the NSTS Success Stories.
It can be hard to confront what we can do better, but making mistakes and learning from them through constructive criticism gives us the creative situations to do just that.
What we consider “our best” gets better and better. What was our best a year ago would be below standard for us now. That’s the way it should be. Never limit your current self to what was your best in the past. Always strive to do better, if only just to see what happens. Worst case scenario, you learn helpful lessons that will improve your future.
A huge part of youth development and youth empowerment is providing adolescents with a safe space to have their own trial-and-error processes. Next Step To Success treats mistakes as learning opportunities in how we operate, plan activities, and take feedback. This helps us improve and provide top-notch services for Norfolk youth.
Are you interested in being a guest speaker or partnering with us to provide these top-notch services? You can contact our Site Manager, Muhanma Garcia, at firstname.lastname@example.org or our Executive Director, Monique Turner-Lopez at email@example.com.