In his book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old, Parker Palmer writes that mentoring is less about “passing the baton,” and more about inviting young people to “join the orchestra.” This gives mentors the opportunity to help mentees learn to play, but also allows them to teach us the “music” of the emerging world. Plus, in an orchestra, we all have a part – and we get to make music, together.
A part of making music together is being willing to talk with mentees about our mistakes and failures. Palmer recalls sitting with 7 teachers one day at a faculty workshop. All of them had a story of youthful failure that actually led them into something more fulfilling. He asked: How many of you have shared your story with your students? None had. So Palmer challenged them to tell their students their stories of “creative failure.”
Perhaps our children are more likely to learn from us, not when we tell them what to do – or show them how we did something – but when we share our story. This sharing includes things we’ve learned and experiences we’ve had, for sure; but it also includes ways we’ve failed – and what we’ve learned from those failures, and where they took us. Through our openness about our story, maybe young people will see that mistakes are inevitable, that everyone struggles, but also that challenges can be overcome, and even failure can teach them to learn, grow, and move forward. In a time of pandemic, uncertainty, and anxiety, this is a vital message for our young people – in fact, for all of us.
In-School Program Coordinator, Oldham County