by EMILY ORTON
Is there anything you love so much that you’re willing to fail – a lot- on your way to getting better at it?
Erik and I were recently interviewed on Whitney Johnson’s Disrupt Yourself podcast. Whitney asked me, "What happened that made you just go, 'Wow, I did that,' and, it might be the whole trip, but is there one event in particular that stands out in your mind?"
I launched into this story about myself dropping a VHF (basically, a walkie-talkie) into the ocean and diving in, fully dressed on our way to dinner, after it. I don’t save the walkie-talkie. I do fry an iPhone and a local cell phone that were in my cross body purse when I jumped in. Erik does stop speaking to me.
Even in the middle of the interview with Whitney I said, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this story.” Graciously, her editor trimmed out my comment. As I’ve thought about it since then, I think I do know why I picked that story. Yes, it’s embarrassing. Yes, it was a destructive and costly move. Yes, I could’ve thought that decision out better. But I did not hold back. I recognized a need, I made an executive decision, and I did my best to resolve the issue even if it meant diving into the ocean fully dressed.
Our daughter Sarah Jane, SJ, is courageous. She likes to move, climb, and test her agility. She mastered the local playground by age 3 and moved on to fence walking and tree climbing. There are some things that make her nervous though—getting around the city alone, any exchange involving money, and numbers in general. We plan to get an official diagnosis this year, but SJ has all the signs and symptoms of Dyscalculia. It’s kind of like dyslexia for numbers, but not exactly.
We’ve had tutors. We’ve tried different math programs. We’ve taped numbers to the floor of our apartment for literal skip counting. We try whatever we can think of to help the numbers line up in order and stick in her brilliant mind. I’ve tried talking through our subway routes in real time, but she doesn’t want any locals to think she’s a tourist. Then she discovered long boarding.
“I’m willing to suck at longboarding,” SJ told me. “I like it so much that I don’t mind falling in front of people. I just want to get better.” That’s the growth mindset. When she comes home with skinned hands or bloody knees, she also has a huge smile on her face because she’s pushed her edge. She’s going for it. The scabs are badges of determination.
She feels the same way about surfing. After one lesson from a friend in San Diego, SJ committed. While we were house sitting in Oahu last spring, SJ surfed with Erik three times each week. When we left, she dreamt about surfing. She practiced her pop ups. She watched videos and looked for boards online.
In the fall of 2018 she couldn’t stand it anymore. We were staying on a boat in a marina with some friends in southern Italy. A big storm blew through the day before and we were getting some residual surge. The waves were close and choppy. The beach was covered in debris that washed in from the storm. She didn’t care. She just wanted to be in the waves again. So, she borrowed a board with no fin. Erik rigged a leash for her and she marched out into the roiling sea soup.
SJ sees how the determination to proceed through trial and error leads to success in long boarding and surfing. Now, she’s willing to apply that experience to academics with renewed hope and confidence. She has a college in mind. It’s in a place where long boarding and surfing are both daily options.
My lifelong friend, Candi, drove up from DC for our book launch at Patagonia this week. (The event went really well! Special thanks to all our friends, old and new, who came out for an evening of gratitude and dreaming big together.) Candi and I spent the next day enjoying the sunshine and wondering about what keeps us from doing the things we want to do? What makes us feel we don’t have a choice? What gives us the impression we don’t deserve to have something good in our lives? What impacts whether we feel we are able or unable? She shared this TED talk about perfection vs. bravery. Reshma Saujani focuses on women and girls as being cultural corralled towards perfectionism rather than failure prone bravery. I think the message is universal.
Nobody wants to fail. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. What’s the alternative? Never trying? Never asking for the phone number, the raise, or sabbatical? Never building, creating, or sharing? I don’t think so.
Me and Winnie the Pooh want to wish you a wonderful weekend with this parting thought.
“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”