The Success of Failure

“One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” – John Gardner

This has been an exciting couple of weeks in some of the communities that are John Gardner’s legacy. On October 17th, we celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the John Gardner Fellowship, bringing together past and current fellows from both Berkeley and Stanford. And then this past weekend in Washington, D.C. several of us fellows were able to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the White House Fellowship program.

Since I’ve been with my placement for just about two months now, this was really the perfect time to remember the larger community that I’m participating in.

One of the greatest lessons that the John Gardner Fellowship community has shared, is this sort of comfort with failure. Alright, I’m not sure how comfortable anyone can really ever be with failure, but the fact is that no success is ever achieved without risking failure. So maybe sometimes such work, such progress, really looks like a looming failure hanging in front of your face.

Past fellow, Donna Michelle Anderson, shared many insights and much advice with me—showing that the JGF which holds so highly the notion of mentorship, really practices what it preaches. One of the singular pieces she shared with me, was that I shouldn’t get caught up in titles or specific goals, but instead look for opportunities to learn and make choices that render me “even more limitless.” I think in this framework, where we focus on learning, failure is something easier to risk. And when we see the support of our fellowship community, made of so many people who have really put themselves on the line in so many ways, I don’t only feel the responsibility to follow suit and risk failure, but I feel excited about it.

Washington, D.C. was its own sort of adventure. With two days at the White House Fellows Leadership Conference, sitting among incredible past fellows so well established and experienced, listening to speakers and conversations with some of the most influential people in the public sphere, a trip to the White House, and a gala at the National Portrait Gallery—this was a weekend of a life time!

I have to say, one of the biggest highlights for me was shaking President Obama’s hand. But beyond that high note, it is truly incredible to be surrounded by people who have made bold moves and transitions in their lives, who speak so highly of John Gardner, many of them provide fond personal memories. Being one of the youngest people in the room, it feels like I have a million life paths in front of me, and these events give me a taste of each of them with the extra special realization that I really don’t have to choose—that I can change my mind and try out many things.

These past weeks have taught me that John Gardner’s legacy are these communities of people who look to problems as challenges that they want to participate in addressing, who are not afraid of failure, who want to participate in growing these communities and who want to build this continuum through mentorship. I am honored and humbled to get to learn from and grow among these communities. Thank you to John Gardner, everyone who is a part of the JGF community, and everyone from the White House Fellows community.

Danielle Puretz is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, receiving her BA in both Theater and Performance Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies. She is currently a John Gardner Fellow, working at Poetic Theater Productions.