Struggles and Setbacks

Somebody did an Inappropriate Thing on Friday, and that required a chain of emails.  Somebody (not the same somebody) hacked the Tres Columnae Project site, but our hosting company caught the problem quickly and shut the site down.  I realized I owed somebody else an apology because I’d said something that, while not untrue, probably gave them the wrong impression of a situation.  And lots of other unexpected struggles and setbacks showed up on Monday, too.

My first thought? “I can’t do this, this is terrible, it’s the end of the world!”  Old factory-model mindsets and beliefs about failure and struggles are more tenacious than you realize.  You think you’ve fully embraced a growth mindset, embraced the notion of failing fast and frequently … but then an actual failure or struggle shows up, and all of a sudden you revert to the Old Familiar.

When I wrote yesterday’s blog post, I had no idea I would soon be living the first two of the “game design principles” that inspired it!  Here’s hoping that today and tomorrow will be filled with multiple paths to success instead!

But by Monday evening, I just wanted to crawl into bed and stay there … perhaps for a year or two.  Book Group had helped a bit; we were talking about a powerful section of our book where Mark Nepo explores forgiveness, community, and the notion that “breaking and burning” are inevitable parts of life.  That actually helped a lot.  When you run into struggles and setbacks, it’s easy to believe that you’re the only one struggling, that everybody else has a trouble-free life where things are all going according to plan.  But everyone had stories of struggles and setbacks to share … and as we shared them, I think we all felt better.

By late morning, we had (apparently) corrected the site issues.  I’d heard back from my friend, who didn’t think I owed an apology at all.  Things were definitely starting to look up, and I’d figured out what the intermediate Latin Family branch at District Y needs to do today.  We’ll be working in small groups in class to do the Unknown Vocabulary process we attempted as a homework assignment.  They’ll all have editing access to a Google Document where we’ll compile the words, and as they’re compiling them, I’ll add the meanings.  We’ll see how much and how well we can read together after that, and we’ll try some more independent reading as homework for tomorrow.  Then the advanced District Y Latin Family will do a Cultural Exploration about theaters, actors, and plays in the Roman world, and then we’ll continue reading the stories in Lectio XXIV where the families actually attend the play … and where poor, anxious Cnaeus dreams that they attended the play.

Poor, anxious Cnaeus!  When I first started writing the Tres Columnae stories, he was a simple character, a spoiled child whose foibles would stand in contrast to the “good boys” Lucius and Caius.  But as I kept writing, and as the Latin Family added their contributions, I started to see a different side of Cnaeus.  I realized he was anxious and perfectionistic … which makes sense, I suppose, since the family’s expectations suddenly rested on him after his older brother’s mysterious death.  And I realized that struggles and setbacks were shaping and molding him into a much more sympathetic character.

I resisted that for a while.  I wanted the simple, easy, flat character I’d designed originally.  But all of the “younger generation” characters have grown more complex as we’ve built out the storyline, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

Struggles and setbacks complicate your life, but on the other side, they also deepen your story and make you stronger.

But without a sense of the overarching story, it’s easy to get lost in the struggles and setbacks, easy to assume that This One Failure means a permanent stain, a lasting inability.  “I won’t ever be able to” isn’t generally true, but it’s easy to believe when you adopt the factory-school story as your own.  Somehow or other, a joyful learning community has to normalize failure, has to celebrate struggles and setbacks … and that’s hard in a world where most people, most of the time, would rather hide their struggles than celebrate them.

I wonder what other new insights and discoveries await in the days to come!  And I wonder what multiple pathways to success will emerge from these struggles and setbacks.

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Published in: on October 28, 2014 at 4:16 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] that phrase and Douglas Kiang’s five principles that I started exploring on Monday and Tuesday.  Art and life are mirroring each other in odd ways!  When you run into an unexpected struggle […]


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