We are generally taught to avoid mistakes. Our parents, teachers, and caretakers are quick to instill the importance of being careful, taking your time, and maintaining attention to detail. And those things are very important! Yet we often find that, regardless of how careful we are or how much attention we place on details, we still make mistakes. This is true across the lifespan — whether it means not being able to stay in the lines when we color as children or missing the mark when we grow and learn as adults. It is not at all uncommon for us to respond to making a mistake by feeling shame, embarrassment, and even defensiveness.
What we sometimes forget is how important it is to make mistakes. We forget that making mistakes can be valuable! In fact, avoiding them entirely can lead us to stop taking risks and trying new things because we are afraid of making mistakes. It is through a series of failed attempts that the most magnificent human achievements have come to fruition — by being curious and persistent despite (and sometimes because of) the mistakes along the way.
And guess what? Making mistakes isn’t something that we outgrow! We continue to learn and grow as adults — parents, teachers, and even grandparents. The importance of trying something new (and consequently not always getting it right at first) applies both to individuals and to communities. The key question is not whether we always get it right, but whether we are willing to learn from the times we get it wrong — and willing to work to keep making it better. This is a process that never ends.
It is a process we go through all the time at Sparkle Stories. And because we know that seeing real-life examples is one of the best ways to learn, we want to tell you a little more about what that process is like for us. We asked our Chief Story Spinner, David Sewell McCann, several questions about some of the mistakes that we’ve made along the way and how they’ve helped us to grow and learn:
It’s natural to avoid making mistakes, but they are always a part of learning to do something new! What are some of the mistakes that we have made along the way?
Sparkle Stories began as an answer to our own desires: to provide sweet, entertaining stories that are nourishing for children like our own. As we grew, we learned something that seems obvious in retrospect: other people’s children are different from ours. They come from different cultures. They live in different parts of the world. They have different family models. They have different life experiences. So we jumped in with efforts to represent diverse communities — but still through David’s lens and bias and skill level. We wanted to expand representation as quickly as possible, and this resulted in falling short in some stories with regard to accuracy and sensitivity.
How have we gone about responding to these shortfalls?
We listen to feedback from listener emails and invite them into a deeper discussion. We also seek out others who might help us review the content and see where we can do better. We want children to receive the wisdom of the stories and not be distracted by inaccurate details or insensitive representation.
What do we do to make it right?
Then we make changes. Sometimes the changes fall short in other ways and we find that we’ve upset a separate group entirely. This is the work of listening and improving. We try not to take critical feedback personally, but instead use it to fuel our search for an elegant solution that yields the pedagogy of the story with as little friction as possible.
In what ways have mistakes helped us to grow?
We are asking ourselves questions that hadn’t occurred to us before. How do gender-specific characters limit our reach? What is the most responsible way to collaborate? How do we identify topics that are universal for all children? How do we prioritize our content as a mostly-white staff?
What is one example of how we’ve “learned to fall” that eventually helped us get off the ground?
Recently, a subscriber wrote in to correct us that tempura was not “Chinese food” as a character in the Libby & Dish collection had stated. Upon investigation, we learned this was the tip of the iceberg in terms of details we had not represented accurately in the past. We felt overwhelmed by the task of re-editing 1400 stories for potential details and didn’t know where to start. We decided to begin by instilling a new protocol wherein we read every story through the lens of representation. Have we done due diligence? Have we confirmed choices with an authority? This has changed our entire editorial process with anything moving forward — and now we are starting to reflect back on previous collections and beginning a more thorough review.
What is your personal, David-Sewell-McCann-style insight into how we approach mistakes? What do you think the role of “making mistakes” might be within storytelling itself?
Storytelling, for me, is one long series of course-correcting mistakes. I bumble around when telling stories — I try things, bump into walls, and then try something else. I do this over and over and over. If I’ve gotten good at anything, it's making the course-correcting nature of the process seem normal. I’m good at finding the “truth” of the story as the story is unfolding. It is a lot like feeling around in a dark room — eventually I find it, but I pick up all sorts of stuff along the way. I just don’t call any of it “making mistakes.” It's just part of the process — an essential part of the process of finding something true.
What do you think children need to hear right now about making mistakes?
Making mistakes is the only way to learn.
If you want to learn something — if you want to get good at something — then welcome mistakes. Make lots of them. Learn from them. Experiment and be willing to look bad. The more mistakes you make, the better you will get. Nothing keeps someone from mastery more than success.
About the Author
David Sewell McCann
David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.