Badges, Activities, & Beyond, Family Experience, Volunteer Experience

In Girl Scouts, “Failures” Become Our Favorite Stories!

Ask a Girl Scout or Girl Scout alum to share her story and you’ll hear tales of friendships built, skills tested (and mastered), outdoor adventures, and more. And almost always, said with a laugh and a touch of nostalgia, they’ll tell a tale of a “fail” that shines brightly in their most cherished memories.

Maybe it’s the time they left late for their overnight canoe trip and were still paddling down the river trying to reach their campsite well after dark. Or the hike where they walked out onto the frozen river (that wasn’t so frozen) and ended up waist deep in the water. Maybe it’s the camp out where an essential item, toilet paper, accidentally got left off the packing list. Or the cardboard boat race where their not so water-tight “boat” sprung a leak midway and they ended up swimming to shore. Looking back, all of these “mistakes” are now some of our favorite (and most hilarious) memories, the ones we eagerly share with other Girl Scouts as we swap tales of mistakes and epic fails that shaped our experiences as much if not more than some of our triumphs and most successful moments.

Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward towards success.

C.S. Lewis

Making mistakes and failing in a safe space, like Girl Scouts, is the best way for girls to learn resiliency and build grit. Imperfect troop outings and projects are memorable because of the problem (or problems) we encountered and the steps we took to solve it now AND avoid it happening again. Girl Scouts are advocates for learning by doing, after all. And doing often means doing it wrong a few times before figuring it out.

So the next troop outing or activity you lead with your girls, resist the urge to follow behind and fix all of the imperfections for the girls. Girl-led activities are going to have a few hiccups and mistakes. And that’s alright! And don’t worry when you make a few mistakes as well. We’re all learning and growing our Girl Scout story together. And every story needs some imperfect moments to look back on and share with laughter.

Does this mean to just let the girls wander around with little supervision, making mistakes left and right? No. That would be super frustrating (and possibly dangerous) for the girls. Sometimes as the caring adult, we need to step in and offer a guiding hand and the occasional veto. If you see a girl ignoring the range safety rules during archery or about to hike off a ridge because she’s texting, please step in before she hurts herself or someone else. But there are times when it’s good to let them fail and then guide that failure into a teachable moment. How do you know? Use your best judgement on when to step in and when to let mistakes happen.

And don’t forget to help the girls figure out what went wrong and how they can fix it in the future. It only takes forgetting to pack toilet paper one time on a camping trip for most of us to start double checking the essential supplies on all future trips. One sunken cardboard boat means the next one we build will have better seams (that we double check!) before we sail out once again determined to reach the opposite shore. It’s often in our moments of failure that we learn the most!

So let’s hear it for imperfect troop outings and activities. May we remember our mistakes for what they were: opportunities that helped us grow with grace and grit!

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