Learn, Fail, Learn to Fail, and Then Learn Some More

“Do the best you can until you know better, and then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

There are two values that anchor me:

  • Continuously learning (and failing); and
  • A deep, unwavering belief in the unlimited potential of all people.

I am a learner.

I do, I struggle, I fail, I reflect, I question, I learn, and then I do better.

In the 11 years since graduating from college, I’ve committed myself to these two values: learning and people.

I grew up in the city of Buffalo and attended Nichols School, where I was provided access to countless opportunities. However, I saw other friends experience a very different education than I did, one with limited opportunities.   This seemed inherently unfair, so, I began to explore the root causes of inequity and racism and committed myself to becoming part of the solution.

There is not a blueprint to create a more equitable community,  so I learned everything I could from everyone who has been doing this work before me. I committed to constantly learn so that I could best use my talents and access to create a more inclusive community and education system.

Since then, I have consulted with President Obama’s team on his signature education policy, Race to the Top, when he was newly elected in 2008. I served in Governor Cuomo’s cabinet as his education advisor; and I moved home to Buffalo to launch Teach For America. Here, I co-founded Buffalo ReformED, a non-profit that works with parents to organize their ideas about what their kids need and put that into policy.

My  story is about learning. Admittedly, learning is a hot mess. To really learn, we must be vulnerable and open. We must be willing to hold onto two realities: who we currently are, and who we aspire to be. We must constantly reflect on the difference and distance between the two and take personal responsibility for overcoming the obstacles to close the gap.

Throughout my career, I have practiced this. I learned to fail and to get back up again; I learned that I am resilient — that every single person is resilient.

Think of something you failed at — something that is a big deal to you. Something that still hurts a little. We all have something like that.

Once you realized it didn’t work out, or you didn’t do the right thing… what did you do? Did you quickly move on and try to forget about it because it hurt so much?

Or did you revisit, think through what happened, and decide what you could have done differently?

Learning how to fail is essential to being successful. There is so much to explore in those messy moments when we said the wrong thing, or we made a big mistake at work, or we missed our goal.

Because I had a clear commitment to the contribution I wanted to make in our community, I was able to adjust and adapt when there were setbacks.

What I’ve learned so far is that I have so much more to learn. From that experience, I’d like to offer up the following questions for you to consider:

What is the contribution you want to make? What do you want to do to make today better — starting with you?

Questions to navigate failure:

  • What could I have done differently?
  • Why is this really important to me?
  • How can I still make that outcome happen?
  • Who do I need to ask for help?
  • When will I do it?

My challenge to you is to explore two anchoring beliefs: What is the contribution you want to make? And what can you learn from your failures?

My final piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. How would you talk to a friend who just failed at something? Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend.

Katie Campos is the BN360 Spotlight Professional for February 2020. BN360 is the young professional engagement and development program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.