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June 13, 2018

Someone to Know: Words of Wisdom from John Novick, Intermediate and Middle School Head, Francis W. Parker School

With graduation season upon us, many are sharing words of wisdom to grads as they transition to their next chapter. Few thoughts have resonated more with me recently than the beautifully eloquent, quiet and energizing thoughts from John Novick, Intermediate and Middle School Head at Francis W. Parker School. (Full disclosure – my husband, Steve, is fortunate to teach there with a group of hugely capable and caring educators. It’s also where our daughters, Avi and Noa, are getting a strong sense of self and finding their voice, along with learning terrific academic skills.) Read on, and find out why what John shared at a celebration for 8th graders is as appropriate for them, as it is for anyone else. His “perfectly imperfect” yet brilliant thoughts make him Someone to Know.

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Words of Wisdom from John Novick,
Head of Intermediate and Middle Schools
at Francis W. Parker School


You are not perfect. In fact, you will never, even if you live to be more than one-hundred-years-old, be perfect. Not just in general, but in anything you do. Never. According to the United Nations, there are seven billion people alive today, and the Population Reference Bureau, which has studied the issue, estimates that about 107 billion people have ever lived. And you know what? Not one of them was exactly the same as another, and none of them, not a single one, was perfect. I am not perfect, by any stretch—and neither are you. Nor can we ever be.

But you are coming of age in an era in which curating an artificial image of perfection has become confused with success…where making a mistake, or being vulnerable, humbled, embarrassed, awkward, ashamed or confused—or just plain screwing up—has been confused with failure, or weakness. And what I most want you to take with you to Upper School is this simple maxim: if you love yourself when you fail, and own your failures, your mistakes, your shortcomings, your blind spots and your struggles, whatever is really hard for you…not only will you learn more, grow more, and achieve more…you’ll enjoy living more. You’ll be, in short, more genuinely you. So I urge you to resist, to resist the pressure we put on you to be perfect, to “perform,” to achieve...pressure you feel from our anxiety-ridden, senselessly-competitive and superficial society that markets a lie, a narrative of a world composed of only winners and losers. Instead, I urge you to commit yourselves to nothing beyond doing your best each day, and forgiving others who try to do the same but fall short. Because ultimately, we all fall short.

Even those who care for you and love you—your teachers, advisors, coaches, parents and friends—we can put this pressure on you to be perfect. Let it go. Reject it. Disown it. It’s not yours. No one on earth can ask anything of you but to do your best, treat others with patience, kindness and generosity, and come back the day after an epic fail, having reflected on what role you played in what went wrong, ready to try, again. Anything else is not only unreasonable, it’s dangerous. For you, and for your communities. And truth be told, every one of us in this auditorium has learned more from our failures than from our triumphs. So accept failure, falling short, screwing up…and love yourself, in spite of it. And love others, too, in spite of their mistakes. If you can do that…you’re always going to be okay.

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About John

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John Novick, Jr. is an educator and writer from Chicago, Illinois, and currently serves as the Head of Intermediate and Middle Schools at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago.



To read executive Q&As in our Someone to Know Series, click here.

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