EP 225: Failure, Addiction and the Long Game with Jess Lahey

One of the most pivotal life choices I ever made was changing my career from politics to teaching. [You can read about my unconventional career path].

Before studying to be a teacher I had a very fixed mindset. I believed that people were smart or not. I believed that you were born with it or you weren’t. I believed failure was the end of the line and the worst thing that could happen. 

The philosophical nature of my yoga practice coincided with the timing of my career change. I was seeking something…better. I was choking on the black and white thinking I was used to. Whispers of new ways of thinking crept into my mind while I was on my mat.

As I entered my teaching credential program I set the intention to have a beginner's mind. I didn’t have to have the answers already, I was seeking learning. I was allowing myself to show up vulnerably. I was showing my professors and my classmates I was humble enough to learn new things, make mistakes, try something different to get different results.

This simple shift of being ok with not already knowing changed my life forever. Perfectionism had its grip on me for the first 30 plus years of my life and it felt terrible.

Teaching allowed me to be present for learning—not the good scores and college acceptance letters to post on social media, but the real kind.

We send our kids to school to learn, but how many of us are okay with making mistakes, failing, not getting what is taught and having to figure it out?

Learning means acquiring knowledge or skill in something. That means you start out not knowing anything about it. Then, you learn about it and realize how little you know. With practice, study, and data collection, you can apply what you’ve gained to what you know, and if you stick with it, you’ll eventually become competent. 

In other words, learning is a hard, ugly process.

And it absolutely rocks if you can get beyond the shame of not knowing or being terrible at stuff in the beginning.

Anyway, I got to interview Jess Lahey about her books about failure and addiction and I really tried not to fangirl too much.

Meet Jessica Lahey. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed and The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence.

Jess was awarded the Research Society on Alcohol’s Media Award for “outstanding journalistic efforts of writers who cover empirical research on alcohol” […] “for her book The Addiction Inoculation and advocacy for the recovery community.”

Over twenty years, Jess has taught every grade from sixth to twelfth in both public and private schools, and spent five years teaching in a drug and alcohol rehab for adolescents in Vermont. She has written about education, parenting, and child welfare for The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and her biweekly column “The Parent Teacher Conference” ran for three years at the New York Times.

She designed and wrote the educational curriculum for Amazon Kids’ award-winning animated series The Stinky and Dirty Show, and was a 2019 Pushcart Prize nominee. Jess holds the dubious honor of having written an article that was later adapted as a writing prompt for the 2018 SAT. She co-hosts the #AmWriting podcast from her empty nest in Vermont.


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