I Give you Permission to Fail

I Give you Permission to Fail

Decades before I knew about the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), and learned that I was right-brain dominant, I struggled through an exceedingly painful year of chemistry taught by one of the most inflexible left-brain dominant instructors I have ever met. Just how inflexible was she? If I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the concept you just presented,” her reply was, “I see.” Then, she would clear her throat and repeat verbatim the exact same thing she had just said—only a little louder. I often felt like saying, “I didn’t say I couldn’t hear you—I said I didn’t understand you!”

At the end of a dismal year in which I flunked, or nearly flunked, every single quiz and chapter test, I asked my exceedingly left-brain dominant father if he would help me prepare for the chemistry final. To understand my desperation, you need to know that asking my father to help me with chemistry was like the Cowardly Lion asking the Great Wizard of Oz for courage. Let’s just say that patience and tolerance were not two of dad’s endearing qualities.

After nearly three grueling hours at the kitchen table, my father sighed heavily, closed the thick chemistry book with a resounding thud, and slid the textbook across the table to me. With great deliberation, he said:

Astrid, I am convinced that you were born without the gene to understand chemistry. I give you permission to fail!

Everything changed in that moment. By removing our family’s version of the educational Sword of Damocles hanging over me, the fear to perform well on the final was no longer scaring me stupid (literally). I went to bed early and slept like a baby.

Next day, with no expectations to pass the standardized, 120-question chemistry exam, my brain disgorged an entire year of trapped knowledge that had hidden itself in the limbic (fright or flight) part of my brain.  Not only did I pass the exam, I got the highest score in the class—an A+. I passed high school chemistry with a D+ and never went near science again. (I wasn’t sure if that “permission to fail” would be good for any other classes.)

Today, I find myself fascinated by science, especially brain science. When I took the HBDI profile, I had a huge “aha!” moment.  There is nothing wrong with my brain—I’m just not a linear thinker. By learning about my preferences for thinking through the HBDI profile, my anxiety about intellectually fitting in with the way other graduate students thought, completely went away.

By the time I began doing research for my dissertation on brain dominance, I already knew that my dissertation would not start with a beginning, proceed to a middle, and end with an ending. In fact, my dissertation started in the middle and worked out to the edges.

By allowing myself “permission to fail” as a left-brain researcher and writer, I successfully completed a 250-page dissertation on the structuration of brain dominance in about a year.

And that’s the beauty of HBDI. When you know your preferences for thinking, you can give yourself permission to let go of the expectations of how something should be done, which then allows you the freedom to succeed by doing it your way.

I never thanked my dad for giving me permission to fail, but it was the greatest gift he ever gave me.


About Dr. Astrid Sheil

Before becoming an academic, Dr. Sheil spent 15 years as a senior-level communication/PR director for two Fortune 500 companies and worked internationally in Finland and the Netherlands. As CEO of Sheil and Associates, she has worked with clients from all sectors of the economy—public and private companies, NGOs, hospitals, government agencies, United States senators, and university administrations. She is the author of Dynamic Public Relations: The 24/7 PR Cycle, published by Pearson—one of the top PR textbooks in the country, and was a 2015-2016 American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow.

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