Failing Forward

The last few days have reminded me about my favorite parts of  The American Legion Auxiliary Empire Girls State program. They are the losses, the failures, and the train wrecks. While initially this might seem cruel, these losses remind me of my time at the American Legion Auxiliary Empire Girls State Program. When I finished my week as a citizen, my dad thanked the American Legion Auxiliary for “picking up where he left off, and taking me where he couldn’t take me.” That’s why I came back as a counselor. So that I could pick up where these girls’ parents left off. They have raised them to be strong, intelligent, amazing,  young women (with a long list of qualifications!) but what parents often can’t do is show them failure, push them to exhaustion and make them crash and burn.

Girls State is thus far the only place I’ve seen our young women learn this lesson consistently and effectively every year. The girls run against each other and find out that, unlike their hometowns, where they are the shoe-in to win every time, they have to find a way to stand out and raise the bar. If they don’t, they lose, and many of these girls aren’t used to losing.  They finally find out who they really are, what is at their core, what their insecurities are. Then, they break through those barriers and learn that they can still win and find success, not by hiding their perceived flaws as they have in their hometowns, but by admitting and embracing them. This is what makes them unique and vulnerable. Sure, sometimes they still lose the election. But they gain self-empowerment by taking that step. The world hurts people sometimes and the sooner we learn to get up, dust ourselves off, and push forward, the stronger we are. Better yet, the sooner we learn to identify when someone else needs help getting back on their feet, the stronger our community becomes.

You can see it in the girls – a creeping sense of “on the verge of something awe-inspiring.” They can’t quite see it in themselves, and they probably won’t recognize it for years, but it’s there. It’ll be there when they sit at college graduation, when they officially move out, when they get their first big-girl job, and forever. More importantly, it will be there when they fail a class, get their heart broken, or get fired. When they fail they will know themselves, they will hurt and cry and wish it hadn’t happened. But what they won’t do is give up. They will not shut down, they will not crumble. They will get up, dust themselves off, and push on. Why? Because American Legion Auxiliary Empire Girls State picked up where their families left off and taught them how to fail. This is the strength that will ultimately allow them to succeed over and over in life.

Claire Herrman
American Legion Auxiliary Member
ALA Empire Girls State Senior Counselor
2011 Federalist Party Leader
2011 ALA Girls Nation Senator

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