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The Art of Failing Forward

In the spring of 2016, I was distraught.

It was my sophomore year in high school, and I felt like a failure. Over the past year, I had been rejected by the National YoungArts Foundation in every creative writing and music category that I had entered, left my state’s youth symphony orchestra after having difficulty playing in time, and been soundly trounced by the (very deserving) competition in just about every contest I entered. And I had entered a lot of contests. While I was fully aware that I would just need to work harder next time, it wasn’t easy to believe in myself in the face of the amount of ‘no’s I had just received.

More than anything, I couldn’t forget what people had said. The music director at the New Jersey Youth Symphony had told me it would take years for my rhythmic skills to be up to par. I had received so many letters that began with “We are sorry to inform you” that I could quote the template from memory.

But the thing was, I had already known for ten years at that point that I wanted to pursue what I loved. Every book I read, movie I saw, concert I listened to, and work of art I gazed at told me what we human beings are capable of doing, and how much capacity we have to change one another’s lives through art. I wanted to do that too, and if I wasn’t good enough to do so yet, then I would work my butt off until I was.

I am incredibly grateful to be where I am today, writing this. I’ve been able to attend the Telluride Association Summer Program, one of the most selective opportunities for high school students in the world. I’ve been nationally and internationally honored for my writing by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and other foundations. I’ve played the harp at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and with incredible musicians recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I was accepted to Columbia University with enough outside merit scholarships to grant me $41,000 a year.

But I wasn’t automatically born with the fortitude to pick myself up and forge ahead anyway. I attribute any sort of grit I have to my education. When I was just beginning homeschooling and getting the hang of learning math and language arts, my parents and educators would cheer on my mistakes like successes. The way I learned gave me the space not just to fail, but to fail forward. To figure out where I had gone wrong and tweak, rework, and iterate, so that I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

I count myself as almost ridiculously lucky to have had the opportunity to learn how to fail forward. But I shouldn’t have to. Learning how to succeed – and how to fail – shouldn’t be so foreign to the American education system. That’s why I’m paying it forward with My Ivy Education. From our perspective as the people who have been through the process and want others to learn not only from their own triumphs and mistakes, but from ours as well, we believe that a growth mindset is key. Let’s grow together.

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