Embrace the Suck - The Importance of Accepting Failure

At the beginning of your first lesson with the Sons you will hear the rules…..

  1. Don’t hit anybody.

  2. Don’t hit anybody.

  3. Don’t hit anybody.

  4. What do you think rule number 4 is?

  5. You suck! Why?

As soon as you say this, something interesting happens. More often than not a flash of emotion will shoot across the student’s face. Outrage; “How dare you tell me I suck!” Confusion; “How can I suck if i haven’t touched a saber yet?”. And the one that breaks my heart, when you see pain or acceptance. Those students need a bit of extra TLC. Why are we so nasty in the first lessons? It’s one of the most important life skills that we teach. Failure is the most important teacher. If you don’t suck, you don’t learn!

I first noticed it when I was teaching English to kids on the Spectrum, with many of my students having a low threshold for learning. What I mean by this is that if they didn’t pick up a skill or concept quickly it was too hard and they would stop learning, period. For some it was a fear of failure; if i give up, i can’t fail. For others it was an inability to function outside of their comfort zones. There was even a smattering of laziness as well! But across the board I found a lack of the resilience needed to overcome failure, to get up and fail again. Malcolm Gladwell stated that it takes 10 000 hours to master something, which is a little more than one attempt! By telling a student they suck, it gives them permission to fail. And once they lose the fear of failure, true learning can begin. Not just in theatre combat but in their wider life.

People are often ready to wave the “its the fault of them play-boxes” flag for our kids failure to cope. Interestingly, I’ve found similar behaviours in the Neurotypical community as well. Our students cover a wide range of ages (currently 9 to 56) and they are people who grew up in the non-digital age and should have learnt the importance of failure. Yet the lack of resilience is displayed across the board. Maybe it is the result of the culture of immediacy the internet provides us; you can have anything you desire delivered to your door in days from anywhere in the world with a minimal wait. That’s my guess anyway.

The reason I choose to teach theatre combat at the Academy is that is a great way to suck. Not many people have had experience with theatre combat before, therefore everyone sucks equally. It is a great way to see actual skill development. At the beginning of the lesson the student has no idea how to do a spin or a piece of choreography; by the end they can see the reward for their hard work. Yet next week you will suck again as we are staring something new. Life is a series of failures, growth comes when we learn from them and move forward.

Sucking is one the greatest thing in life. It shows us where we need to improve, it allows us to see growth and it builds character! Make sucking at something part of your every day life! The day you stop learning is the day you die!