In fact, Northeastern University’s current alumni issue’s cover story is titled, ‘Dare to fail: Why success requires taking that leap.’
The cover story abounds with one harrowing anecdote after another…of failure. Like me, the powers that be at NU (that would be President Joseph Aoun, @presidentaoun) believe many students can only learn from failure. As a result, @northeastern encourages risk in a major way.
That’s tough love in light of reporter John Ombelets question, “What happens when the most talented members of a whole generation are unable to manage failure or manage risk as learning opportunities?” In other words, what happens if the trophy kids can’t cope with their first setback?
Happily, NU’s experiential learning program (known as co-op) prepares students to fail. In fact, three or four different co-op students share their failure stories in the cover feature. Each learned from his or her mistakes and either switched majors or doubled down on their efforts.
Learning from failure is key because, according to a Northeastern-sponsored survey of senior executives across the US, one-third feel most recent college grads LACK vital workplace skills, including adaptability and the ability to take a career punch. That’s what happens when one’s never failed in the past.
My co-ops enabled me to take a career punch or two. In fact, my gigs at the NY Times, WGCH Radio and CBS Radio, respectively, showed me a different side of failure. I actually excelled at my chosen major, journalism, but hated the culture of the newsroom. So, while I received full-time job offers, I turned them down, knowing I wouldn’t be happy.
Instead, I turned to my co-op advisor who suggested something called public relations instead.
And, check this out: Some NU professors actually create curricula for their doctoral students that requires them to take on at least one research project that carries a high probability of failure. “Failure is inevitable,” says psychology professor Adam Reeves, one of NU’s ‘cruel to be kind’ faculty. “Without experiencing it in the relatively protected environment of the university, students who have only succeeded in their Ph.D. years will not be prepared for failure when it happens in real-world research positions.” Amen, professor. Amen.
I’m so glad I found out about failure during my Northeastern years. While they didn’t prevent me from failing several times throughout my subsequent career, my NU experiences did harden me for the falls and enabled me to dare to fail again and again in order to succeed.
Trophy kids need to learn that same painful lesson. And soon.