How Seth Godin taught us all to suc­ceed at fail­ure

Best­selling au­thor says win­ners are smart quit­ters

Bayview Post - - KIds - by Joanne Kates

One time, about a decade ago on his reg­u­lar an­nual camp visit, my friend Seth Godin came out of the lake in a gorilla suit. A full­size the­atri­cal rented gorilla suit.

The en­tire camp was watch­ing — and wait­ing — be­cause he did it at evening flag low­er­ing.

Seth be­gan recit­ing a poem. A some­what ob­scure poem. Kids started scratch­ing their heads. Staff looked on in dis­may.

What does this guy think he’s do­ing and why? ’Cause what­ever it is, it’s sure not work­ing.

After­wards, at din­ner at the Head Ta­ble, I strug­gled with what to say to Seth. ’Cause usu­ally when some­one does a skit or pretty much any­thing spe­cial or new at camp, we like to val­i­date them, even if they’re an alumni vis­i­tor, which Seth was.

But what do you say to a guy who just flopped hor­ri­bly? And who had clearly gone to the trou­ble and ex­pense of rent­ing a gorilla suit on the way up to camp from New York? I didn’t know what to say.

He shocked me: “That was so great!” said Seth. I’m won­der­ing what planet he’s on (Planet of the Apes?) when he fol­lows up with a clas­sic Seth gem: “Ev­ery sin­gle per­son in camp saw me fail. I’m so ex­cited about that.”

He talked more to me about how in­struc­tional and im­por­tant it is for young lead­ers to see ex­am­ples of tak­ing a safe risk (the gorilla suit ca­per) and fail­ing.

The up­side of fail­ure, he said is that fail­ure is an in­evitable re­sult of be­ing cre­ative and try­ing new things: If you’re never fail­ing, it means you’re play­ing it way too safe.

This past sum­mer, in a June 5 ar­ti­cle in The New York Times they in­ter­viewed Seth about fail­ure. He said: “Win­ners are smart quit­ters who quit of­ten, like when they re­al­ize their cur­rent path and de­ci­sions can­not get them any far­ther to­ward their goal. Cut­ting their losses al­lows win­ners to re­al­lo­cate their time and en­ergy to the things that do con­tinue to move them for­ward.”

There’s a whole book about this by Seth Godin: The Dip: A Lit­tle Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick).

That day when Seth wore the gorilla suit at camp, about a decade ago, got me think­ing about fail­ure.

I thought about the thou­sands of kids I’ve wit­nessed in 30 years of run­ning a sum­mer camp. I’ve been think­ing of the win­ners and the losers, or, to put it more po­litely, the kids for whom things come easy and the kids who have to work hard for ev­ery­thing.

I think of­ten of one par­tic­u­lar girl, Laura, who is now a young woman and a won­der­ful mem­ber of our Se­nior Staff team at camp. For six years run­ning Laura was in the Arowhon A class. This is our most pres­ti­gious and tough­est swim­ming award. But be­fore she met suc­cess, Laura failed her Arowhon A test for five years run­ning, from age 10 to 14.

In the process of pick­ing her­self up off the floor and try­ing again, after each fail­ure, Laura be­came the young woman she is to­day — full of grit, all per­se­ver­ance.

The fact of Laura pass­ing her Arowhon A test at 15 is so much less im­por­tant than the fail­ures — for they are what al­lowed her to learn to per­se­vere. No fail­ure, no les­son in grit.

So back to Seth and the gorilla suit. He, by the way, still comes up to camp most sum­mers for a few days. He teaches ca­noe­ing, be­cause that’s what he did grow­ing up here at Arowhon.

When he works with kids in ca­noes, he’s not just teach­ing pad­dling strokes. He looks for campers who have “I can’t” writ­ten all over their faces, and he helps them dig deep to dis­cover their A game. He gives them per­mis­sion and room to mess it up over and over again.

The ca­noe weaves around like a crazy crit­ter — over and over again. And then, after hard times for the child, the ca­noe fi­nally starts to go in a straight line. Be­cause they were will­ing to fail first. And be­cause safe risk is AL­WAYS worth it.

Seth Godin and Joanne Kates, show­ing off their ex­pert ca­noe skills

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