So, this happened last week! This photo is of my 15-year-old daughter who was in a horse show. First and fortunately, she is absolutely fine! Ultimately, she had 5 falls during the course of the show, which is highly unusual. This was the first time she was showing her horse, and after working with her since September, let’s just say that expectations were not met.

As you know, it is during incredibly challenging times like these that we truly grow. We test ourselves as individual competitors, as parents, and as leaders of our organizations. While my daughter had to tap into all the grit that she could find within her, I had to stand beside her, support her, and find the meaningful words that would transcend the situation and serve as the life lessons that I wanted to impart on her.

I won’t go into all the details, but I relied heavily on my experience as a parent and teacher to help her through this messy and emotional week. Most importantly, I recalled experiences when I had failed at something and reminded myself how much those moments taught me. I think many people can agree that as difficult as failures are to process, we learn much more about ourselves during these painful times and we are stronger for it.

Failing is Universal

Coincidentally, this past week two colleagues happened to tell me stories about their recent failures and how they were dealing with these unexpected events. The reality is that we all experience these situations. The more we take on new opportunities or leadership roles, the more likely we are to stumble and fall.

I remember interviewing someone and asking about a time that she had failed. The interviewee said that she had never failed at anything. I was stunned and pushed her to talk about any situation even if it seemed somewhat minor, or something she maybe didn’t perceive as a failure but a learning experience. Nope, the interviewee said there was absolutely nothing she could think of.  The truth is, we have all experienced the disappointment and frustration of failing. It makes us human, and recognizing these failures and reflecting on them makes us better both personally and professionally.

Reflection and Resilience

When I was a school leader, I preached “reflection and resilience” to guide our staff to think about their work and focus on improvement. Simple words, nothing too profound, but I found that they provided a basic roadmap for educators. I encouraged them to ask themselves:

  • Are we truly reflecting on our experiences?
  • Are we reflecting on how we can serve our students better?
  • Are we reflecting on a student’s struggles and trying to figure how to address those struggles?
  • And after we have reflected on all this, are we able to be resilient?
  • Can we try and try again?
  • Do we have the energy, positivity, and can-do attitude to tackle this situation again?

Can we literally get back on the horse?

 As the horse show week went on, my daughter had more falls. She struggled with embarrassment especially since she is considered a very good rider. What a humbling experience! I didn’t try to convince her not to be embarrassed (she is a teenager, after all), but I promised her that these experiences teach us humility and make the wins all the sweeter.

I’m proud to report that she didn’t blame her horse and she didn’t blame others. Instead, she accepted her mistakes and focused on how to solve the problems.

As I watched her go through this, my eyes welled up with pride. I walked beside her knowing I couldn’t take the pain away, but I could listen and remind her to reflect and be resilient.

As we start this new school year with new and seemingly overwhelming challenges, I hope each of you will find the grit inside you and get back on that horse every day to lead your communities through this exceptional time in history.

This is how my daughter ended her week after many days of disappointment.

mckenna horse 2
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