“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” Elbert Hubbard – Decision Making
Should you fear mistakes?
We all know what it feels like to be afraid of doing something. We hesitate, delay and ultimately choose to do nothing and then devise elaborate justifications for our inaction. Fear overcomes our courage. Yet, we also know the feeling of making quick decisions that lead to embarrassing mistakes. In those cases, a little fear would have encouraged us to slow down and make better choices.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – for a compelling conversation on decision-making, enriched by the Teach Different Method.
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Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. If you’re a teacher, administrator, or parent who wants to use the power of conversations to build stronger relationships and fight polarization, stay tuned to hear the impact our method can have on your discussions. Then join our Community of Educators at teachdifferent.com for additional resources and to participate in lively conversations among teachers and faculty, free for 30 days.
Dan Fouts 00:30
Welcome everybody, to the Teach Different podcast. This week, we have a new author, Elbert Hubbard, a writer and philosopher born in Hudson, Illinois. We’ll be using his quote on decision making today. For those new to the Teach Different method, we begin with Hubbard’s quote. Then, we talk about the claim of his quote, interpreting it in our own words and trying to say it in a way that makes sense to us. That is such a good interpretive activity to go through. After the claim, we’ll push against it by coming up with a counterclaim to what he’s saying. We’ll establish a different way of looking at it that’s equally reasonable. With this method, you have to provide a counterclaim that you believe in, because that’s what creates the tension in the conversation. When you bring this to the classroom, that’s what the kids are going to be interested in. We’ll end with an essential question and be on our way. Here is the quote from Elbert Hubbard, American writer and philosopher, “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” All right, what’s your take on this one, Steve?
Steve Fouts 02:15 – Claim
Take chances. Seize the day. Don’t worry about anything being perfect. Lead with intuition. Maybe talk about leading with confidence, and stop worrying about being perfect with everything. Do what you have to do and let the chips fall.
Dan Fouts 02:44
Yeah, I like it. I think that captures it pretty well. Confidence is important here. How often do students not participate in class, because they fear making a mistake? I had a discussion today about why certain students in a discussion remain silent, and don’t share their opinions. My students were very honest. They said, “I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to say something that other people think is stupid.” We had a moment where a lot of people in class connected with that. Then we talked a little about the impact that attitude has on a discussion. People’s views are not heard when they’re afraid. That’s the most direct application to this quote that I could immediately bring in to connect with the students.
Steve Fouts 03:58
A good question. I think you could ask the students if they’ve ever said, you only live once. You did something, and maybe made a mistake or failed, but later, you were happy you did it, even though you were a little embarrassed. Maybe you lost a friend or you lost something of value, but you don’t have regrets. You felt like you had to do something, and you’re proud of yourself for going ahead and doing it and overcoming a fear of failure. That’s what I would like to hear from students, because I think that they’d have experiences to share. Peer pressure is a monumental issue for adolescents. How many chances are you going to take, and how much will you risk to explore your identity, and different parts of your personality? That would be a good storytelling prompt.
Dan Fouts 05:17
Yeah, I agree. Another interesting question you can bring into the discussion, if you have middle or high school students, is, did you find that you didn’t fear mistakes as much when you were really young? Has it gotten worse with age? If so, why is that? That might be an interesting side conversation to this. I think they will realize that as we get older, we become more self-conscious. When we’re young, mistakes are just part of our experiences. We don’t even think of them as mistakes. We’re just living and playing. But, when self-consciousness, self awareness, peer pressure, the need to be accepted by people becomes important, then the fear kicks in. Helping kids become aware of the part self-consciousness plays in the fear might be good.
Steve Fouts 06:20
I really like that, because that’s also an opening for you, as the teacher, to share how you’ve evolved, from the time you were younger to your professional life and adulthood. Has your perception of making mistakes dwindled? Are you a greater or lesser risk taker? For myself, I would say I was a lot more cautious as a younger person. I was shy, and embarrassed easily. I didn’t want to make mistakes. That was a bigger concern for me when I was younger. As I’ve gotten older, it’s gone away. I’d want to tell that to students, because that might provide some inspiration. When you’re an adolescent, you think your time in school is everything. Then, you get out in the real world and realize that all those things that seemed so important back then, have very little to do with whether you’re going to be successful. That can be inspiring for some kids, because this is a difficult age.
Dan Fouts 07:57
I would also bring in fear of public speaking. That would be the one personal experience I would share. I was afraid of making a mistake, afraid of being judged, and it kept me from public speaking. I tell my students this all the time, and then I share that I’ve probably given 17,000 public speeches since then. I’ve gotten over it. So to your point, the older you get, you see mistakes differently. That’s probably because you make so many of them that they become a part of your life, like anything else. If you can encourage kids to share some of their fears, this could lead to a very vulnerable conversation, where everybody can admit to their own human frailties. That would be really good.
Steve Fouts 08:54
Do you remember the conversation where we talked about how when you get older you start to make a distinction between the mistakes that you make, and you yourself being a failure, like your identity and your entire person being a failure. Having a sense that there’s a difference between being a failure as a person and making mistakes. I can’t remember which conversation that was, but that would fit really well here. You know, bringing that out and getting the kids to talk about that as well.
Dan Fouts 09:37
That conversation was with Dr. Amy Faust of McMinnville, Oregon. It was a Winston Churchill quote about success. “Success is moving from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”
Steve Fouts 09:53
I might not have gotten it perfect there, but it was the spirit of what you just shared. She was pointing out that you can’t associate your mistakes with your identity.
Dan Fouts 10:11
Well, I think we got the claim pretty well here. “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” Be confident. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They’re part of our lives. Good to go. Now the counterclaim. Let’s go against this quote. There is something that is equally true about the world that the kids should bring out here. Can I give the first shot here? I think I’m gonna do it.
Steve Fouts 10:40
If you have something on your mind, then go for it.
Dan Fouts 10:42 – Counterclaim
The first thing that comes to mind is that fearing mistakes actually makes you make better mistakes.
Steve Fouts 10:56
Okay, so you just said it helps you make better mistakes. You meant, it helps you make better decisions, right?
Dan Fouts 11:03
Yes, I meant decisions.
Steve Fouts 11:06
Say that again. Fearing mistakes helps you make better decisions.
Dan Fouts 11:10
You make better decisions, when you consider mistakes that you could make. Make sure you’re careful.
Steve Fouts 11:19
Okay. Let me add something to that. Perfectionists, like Steve Jobs, want something perfect, and don’t want to leave any stone unturned. They want to do the best at something and make it as perfect as possible. You almost have to fear mistakes in a way, because if you don’t fear mistakes, you end up learning how to live with them. You end up, I think, settling for things that you otherwise wouldn’t settle for. By fearing them, that’s another motivation you can have to be a better person, artist, basketball player, football player.
Dan Fouts 12:18
I would argue that Steve Jobs did fear making mistakes. He never wanted to put out a product that would make people unhappy. He wanted approval from people, like athletes want from fans. They don’t want to let people down. I think there is a fear that leads to perfectionism. It can lead to people accomplishing amazing feats.
Steve Fouts 12:57
It’s a driver, I guess, is what we’re both saying. The quote treats fear like it’s something bad. Fearing making a mistake is something that will hamper you. It won’t help you achieve your goals. But, maybe it’s a driver that isn’t necessarily negative. What’s a good prompt for students to bring out this counterclaim and to get them to share something that makes the counterclaim true?
Dan Fouts 13:45
With juniors and seniors in high school, they could talk about college applications, and how fear motivates them to put together a really good application, so they look the best they possibly can to the colleges. A little bit of fear is a motivator to put together something important, because it might dictate the next four years of their life. Be a little bit afraid of making a mistake, because your product is going to be amazing.
Steve Fouts 14:26
I’m starting to really get into this counterclaim. If it’s too much, it can be debilitating, but having a little bit of fear pushes you to do things that you otherwise wouldn’t do. Dot those eyes and cross those t’s. If you don’t fear things, you’re going to be more happy go lucky. Things can happen whatever way they want to happen, and you won’t have excellence. What’s a good question to ask the students?
Dan Fouts 15:05
Have you ever been afraid of letting someone down? Have you ever been afraid of not producing your best work? You went into a project and had a fear that whatever it is you were doing had to be great. It made you a little bit afraid.
Steve Fouts 15:31
Good. I like the prompt about not wanting to let someone down, too. In certain contexts, the last thing some kids want to do is let somebody down. That’s a really strong motivator toward the counterclaim. You don’t want to make a mistake, not because of self-consciousness, or wanting to be a perfectionist, but because you don’t want to let somebody down.
Dan Fouts 16:02
As I look at the quote again, “the greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one,” you could get into a talk about friendships or relationships. Some people avoid friendships or relationships, because they fear they’re going to say or do something that’s going to turn somebody off. They have a lack of confidence. This seems more like the claim, doesn’t it? You should go into relationships confident that they will be successful, and not let fear hold you back.
Steve Fouts 16:55
That’s fine. Let’s take the friendship idea and the fear involved with being accepted into a peer group. Would this quote help them process how they’re viewing getting into a new peer group? The last thing you want to do is be uncool and make a mistake, because that’s going to risk being accepted. That’s actually a good prompt for the storytelling, getting into a peer group and being accepted by others.
Dan Fouts 17:44
Are you saying that there’s a healthy bit of suspicion you might have of people before you join a peer group?
Steve Fouts 17:55
No, I’m saying that being careful and cautious when you’re with new friends might not be a bad strategy. Don’t make mistakes and don’t talk too much while you get to know people, then you can be yourself later. Does that make sense?
Dan Fouts 18:31
It’s a stage in a relationship. You hold back a little bit. That could be true in a friend relationship. A little hesitancy and fear is actually a good coping mechanism for a new student who comes into a new class.
Steve Fouts 19:02
Right. When I’m in a professional development meeting, sometimes I just want to listen to people talk about their own opinions. I won’t say anything, if I’m not sure of it. It’s a cautious way of interacting with people. I wouldn’t say it’s a fear of making a mistake, but I would say it’s a fear of saying something and having somebody else correct me. They would be polite, but it’s like I lost the moment. Sometimes it’s better to hang back, and not put yourself out there. Listen to others first, then join the conversation by clarifying something someone said. I’m trying to give an example of how I would approach it as an adult.
Dan Fouts 20:21
Yeah, I think that makes sense. There are a lot of things kids could connect to with this – making mistakes, being confident, situations when they are hesitant, situations when they should be more forward. This conversation will work with any age. I’m sure a lot of really good questions will come out of this conversation. It’s a good idea to have the kids write down the questions that pop into their head during the conversation, so that they can share them throughout the experience. That’s a great way to keep the conversation going and come to a natural closure at the end.
Dan Fouts 21:14 – Essential Question
Here’s an essential question we came up with that we think can be used. Should you fear mistakes? A very simple question, but very profound. Kids could take a position on this and talk about when they should or shouldn’t. That’s a decent way to wrap this one up. Well, this was a great discussion using Elbert Hubbard’s quote on decision making, “the greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
Dan Fouts 21:56
All right, take care everybody. We’ll see you next week.
Steve Fouts 21:59
Dan Fouts 22:00
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and have a sense of confidence that you too can master the art and science of conversations to make a lasting impact. We at Teach Different are dedicated to supporting you along that journey. Please visit teachdifferent.com to join our Community of Educators for additional resources and engaging discussion among fellow teachers and administrators, free for 30 days. We’ll see you there and next time on the Teach Different Podcast, take care!