Last weekend our 8-year-old son, Keelan, participated in his first Pinewood Derby competition with the Cub Scouts. This type of thing is 'right up his alley', so he was pretty excited.
Each Scout is given a rectangular block of wood and 4 wheels to create any type of car they want. Keelan is not someone who plans a lot before he executes, but instead has an image in his mind and modifies as necessary throughout the process. He has an amazing ability to figure things out independently but is not meticulous nor a perfectionist. With lots of wood shavings scattered on his desk and all over the floor, he was done the same day he got it. His car was carved, painted, had wheels and he was proud of it.
At the Derby they are randomly paired up 6 different times to race their cars. And let me tell you, these cars were shiny, so creatively designed, perfectly painted; they looked great and looked way snazzier than Keelan’s car (if we are being honest). But that didn’t matter, it was the speed that mattered. The outcome…Keelan lost every single pairing and came in 24 out of 35 cars. Not exactly a stellar showing and basically a “failure” in those regards. But, Keelan was in good spirits the whole time and really enjoyed the day. Did he want his car to win? Absolutely! He’s competitive, but losing didn’t ruin the day for him.
When we got in the car he said, “Right when we get home, I’m going to fix my car to make it faster.” I thought, wow, yes…that’s it…that’s the point!!! The whole event was amazing. Amazing because his car was not the shiniest, prettiest, or best designed. Amazing because he lost. Amazing his attitude while losing. And amazing because of what he learned from losing!
Keelan carved the entire car himself with just his knife; no fancy tools, no parent suggestions, and no help. If we had stepped in and helped him with the car and it had performed better, we would have robbed him of such an amazing learning opportunity. Failing pushed him to improve, to learn more about what will make his car faster, to pay attention to the details and do better next year. And if he does perform better next year, think of how much more it will mean to him!
At Acton Academy we encourage failure "early, cheaply, and often" because it means that you are stepping to the outer limits of your ability, which is exactly the space where you learn and grow. Acton Academy is a tight-knit community where it's ok to admit you don't know something, to be wrong, to fail...and then to figure out the solution, improve, grow, learn.
What matters is not that you fail, but that you get back up. That's exactly what Keelan did, and of that I'm so proud!