Posted by Rebecca Shesser
"I am not a failure - I am someone who has failed". These words capped off journalist Megan McArdle's delivery of this spring's Carr Distinguished Interdisciplinary Lecture - a semi-annual lecture series with the purpose of "more intentionally preparing Skidmore students for the transition from college to the working world or to further studies".
McArdle spoke Thursday night, April 10, about her new book, The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, which is an examination of various social issues through an intense factual lens. McArdle's talk was riddled with charming anecdotes and sobering TED-talk-esque advice. As a self-identified libertarian, McArdle brought a wave of individualistic thought to challenge the typical Skidmore vantage point.
Social Work Professor, Pat Oles, was in charge of the selection committee whose goal was to bring in an individual whose career would provide Skidmore students with guidance and inspiration for their own. Oles, who first started reading McArdle's work when she began blogging for The Economist, thought she would be the perfect Carr resident.
"I like reading business press as well as about politics and policy," Oles commented, "I think she is one of the best writers on the business - politics side".
While liberals might not agree with the political views McArdle expresses regularly in her work, she did not focus much on politics. Instead, her overall message of the night - one that might have resonated particularly for graduating seniors - was that failure isn't necessarily a bad thing. McArdle's most repeated anecdote was about her unemployment status for the years that followed her college graduation. McArdle told of her 2-year, 1,400 resume journey to full-time, stable employment - a story that might have scared many seniors. Luckily, McArdle offered hope for those individuals who may find themselves in sticky and undesirable situations as they make their transitions to the real world.
"We all fail, but we don't all fail well" said McArdle during her lecture - a piece of advice which was weaved throughout her talk. By preaching the idea of "failing well," McArdle advised students to admit their failures, let go of them and move on in order to gain and grow from unfortunate life experiences. "Don't fail blindly," McArdle said as she encouraged the audience to take smart risks and to sometimes let things fail rather not be able to let go, revaluate, and move on.
In addition to talking about her book, McArdle also shared some journalistic wisdom with the crowd. One particularly relevant piece of advice had to do with the Internet's impact on journalism and adapting to the widespread availability of information. She described situations in which (perhaps biased) journalists would post information to the Internet that wasn't quite true. As a result, more informed citizens would comment on this false information, calling out the author on their failure to post the facts. She stated that the journalists that failed well were the ones who checked those facts and posted corrections or apologies. Those journalists who failed less than well would stubbornly defend their work despite the fact that their information wasn't correct.
McArdle closed the lecture by fielding questions from the audience. McArdle delivered two additional lectures: one on Thursday afternoon to a combined government and social work class and another private lecture on Friday morning for those individuals on campus who are interested in pursuing a career in journalism. McArdle's fresh individualistic, libertarian perspective made for interesting conversations around campus and achieved all that the Carr Lecture aims to deliver.