Monday, January 21, 2013

Learning happens one wobbly step at a time

At the beach, 11-month-old Trillian practices her newly learned walking skills

Simply Living
January 21, 2013

My 11-month old granddaughter recently learned to walk.  Over the past two months, her balance has rapidly improved but she still falls often, landing with a plop on her padded bottom before picking herself up and waddling off again.

During a recent outing to the beach, her mother confided in me with a certain amount of anxiety, “She still falls a lot.”

I watched my granddaughter’s happy face as her stubby legs forged an unsteady course across the sandy shore.  I then turned to my daughter and said, “She does fall often but she gets back up and tries again.  That’s what babies do.”

Although the day continued without further discussion about toddlers learning to walk, my mind kept revisiting the subject.  Little children take falls in stride but somewhere along the line that changes.  Falls feel like failure.  Why does that happen?

My granddaughter Trillian is too little to be aware of the concept of failure.  For her, every plop to the ground is another chance to practice her pick-myself-up skills.  She gets up and we adults applaud her efforts.  We even lavish encouragement.  “Good job!” we say as she waddles over for a congratulatory hug.

What would happen if grownups received similar support? 

I’m currently trying to learn a myriad of financial operations.  My husband is teaching me how to navigate computer bookkeeping and banking programs.  Like my granddaughter, I find myself often failing, making mistakes and having to start over again.  However, unlike Trillian, I don’t do it with a smile on my face nor is my rebound from those errors a rousing gush of encouragement.  I often feel frustrated, slow and dimwitted. 

In reality, failure is the key to success. 

If little kids got frustrated as quickly as grownups do they’d never learn anything.  Every skill we have is accomplished through practice, patience and persistence.  We try then we try again.  Over and over the task is repeated until it’s perfected.  In childhood, that’s a given.  In adulthood, not so much.  For some reason we assume adults should instinctively know how to do things.  Maybe not on the first try but surely by the second. 

News flash: That’s not how it works.

Regardless of age or skill set, learning only happens after repeated failures.  I look at my granddaughter’s attempts to stand upright and navigate on two feet and I see how much she has accomplished in such a short time.  If I gave my own attempts to learn new skills a similar appraisal, I’d feel equally impressed.  I make mistakes but I also make headway.  My knowledge of how to navigate complicated computer programs has increased and my understanding of financial matters has improved.  Like Trillian, I’m still a bit wobbly, but I am making progress.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”  

Little children know that instinctively but adults need reminding.  Watching Trillian on the beach reminded me that learning happens one-step at a time with many a fall in between.  The important thing is to not give up and maybe even try to move forward with a smile.     


  1. I love the idea of how we all learn to walk during our entire lives. That photo is beautiful, too. Thanks for reminding me that all of life is a journey.
    Diana BLetter, Author
    The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle

  2. I love the idea that all of life is a journey and we learn to walk one step at a time. Thank you for sharing this.
    Diana Bletter
    The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle