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Wahl: Don't be afraid to fail

There’s growth on the border of chaos and order.

Erik Wahl, graffiti artist, author, and entrepreneur, gave attendees of the School Leaders Luncheon on Saturday at NSBA’s annual conference a taste of what that concept means. Wahl announced that as we strive to get away from standardized tests, keynote talks should no longer be standardized either.

“Who here can draw?” he asked the audience. When no one raised their hands, he noted that that response was typically in a group of adults. When he asks the same questions of high school students, he gets from 8 percent to 10 percent answering yet. But, he said, what happens when he goes to a preschool? All of them say they can draw. “At what age does that creative river dry up?” he asked. “Every child is an artist. How do we retain that childlike passion?”

Wahl’s stage was set with blank canvasses on three easels, with tubes of paints underneath each one. During his presentation, he wowed the audience by rapid-fire painted pictures while a short videos played on jumbo screens behind him.

Wahl didn’t start painting until he was over 30. As a child, he said, “I was told by my teacher I wasn’t a great artist. I went too fast and didn’t pay attention to detail. I listened to her and I quit. I set my crayons, and put my paint down for another 20 years.”

Instead, he said, he decided to excel in school. “I retained the information just long enough to regurgitate it back to my teachers. I didn’t have time for the arts. If it didn’t have a direct ROI, for grade, degree, or promotion, I didn’t want to do it.”

He lost his business after the dot com bubble burst. “I want in freefall,” he said. “Everything that was programmed into my hard drive about what it meant to be successful, even how I defined myself as a man, I felt like it was taken from me.”

A friend suggested he travel to help him cope. Feeling travel was too expensive, he took up painting. It was transformative for him. “My mind began to creep open. I had lived so predictably and conservatively, I wondered if I lived at all.”

Wahl now speaks and holds workshops on creativity, disruption, and how to become comfortable with failure. “Do not be afraid to fail,” he said. “If you aren’t failing, you are insulating yourself. Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.”

Wahl said he wanted to recognize “the heroism of what you do, day in and day out, taking heat from parents and politicians. Keep fighting that good fight.”

Also at the luncheon, which was sponsored by Sodexo, the winners of the 2016 Magna Awards were honored.

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