In 2nd grade, on a school project for South Carolina history, I misspelled the name of the state of “Georgia.” All of our posters were hung in the hallway, and there was mine, with my teacher’s big red circle around my mistake, for all passers-by to see. Granted, this was a small elementary school in Surfside Beach, so the traffic for my particular error was pretty light. But that doesn’t mean I ever forgot it.
This week, there was a major error in a live television broadcast a lot of people were watching. A movie star was handed an envelope, walked on stage, opened it, and read it, announcing that “La La Land” had won an award, when it actually hadn’t, because the movie star had been handed the wrong envelope. The producers of “La La Land” started acceptance speeches on stage for an award they didn’t win. There was a pause, and an uncomfortable, awkward shuffle, but finally, the mistake was realized, and rectified, and the team behind “Moonlight” came on stage to accept their award.
What seemed like, and is being treated like, the World’s Biggest Mistake Ever, is actually a teeny little human error. A human person holding a stack of envelopes handed another human person the wrong one. It’s a live TV broadcast. Things go wrong. And the best way to be ready for when things go wrong, is by having things go wrong before.
Imagine you’ve done everything perfect your entire life: Straight As, perfect attendance, always know the answer when you’re called on, etc. And then, something goes wrong. You’re probably going to panic. But imagine if instead, you had some Bs, you got a few tardies, and a few times when you got called on you had to say “Wow, I don’t know.” And you did it, and it didn’t kill you. No panic necessary. “I’ve done this before,” you thought. I’ll make it, come out the other side, and I’ll be better prepared for when the poop hits the fan the next time.
I often refer to student media as a “Fail Lab.” I encourage students to try things when they don’t know the outcome. I always want them to succeed, of course, but when they make a mistake, I want them to have a soft landing. After we try something new, we can see if it worked, and if it didn’t, how to change it, how to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again. As long as you learn from a mistake, it’s just as valid as a success.
So take advantage of this time, and all your possibilities for a soft landing. If you flub a line, or hit the wrong button at the wrong time now, on your college station, you’re better prepared for the time you do it at your first job, or your tenth job, or when you’re handing an envelope to Warren Beatty.
And, I’ve never misspelled “Georgia” again.