Getting it wrong is the new RIGHT
“We are all failures - at least the best of us are.” - J.M. Barrie
So let’s discuss the topic of failure. As a concept it has traditionally been associated with a negative outcome to a situation. If you have failed, you have lost. If you are a failure, you’re a loser, etc. It also attracts more public attention than success - probably due to human nature and its morbid fascination with the downfall of fellow humans. It does not however attract as much envy or jealousy as the concept of success; and this is where it is all wrong.
Epic fails in history have created the most incredible success stories, in fact most achievements were the result of a mountainous number of attempts, and of course, failures. So what we need to do is either eradicate the stereotype of what it means to fail, change the word itself to allow it to ensue an entirely new meaning; or simply adjust the perception of what it means to fail. Take a look at Thomas Edison; it took him around ten thousand attempts to actually get that light bulb working! And more recently Dyson tried out more than five thousand versions until they came up with their effective bag-free vacuum cleaner. Failure is not the end of something, on the contrary it is the beginning, or a step towards achievement.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” - Robert F. Kennedy
This brings me to my parenting point in that I fully support parents who condone the failure of their children. I don’t mean that we should encourage them to sit on the couch and watch TV until they’re 32 because they once failed a maths test, but that if they have tried their best at something, they should be supported and inspired by their parents to keep going, try again or try something else. The key is to let them know that this is an absolutely vital part of finding the path to success. In anything.
You learn from your mistakes as the adage goes, and there couldn’t be a truer word said when it comes to taking from what went wrong and working out how to make it right. You can’t even learn to ride a bike without falling off a couple of times, imagine how many of us wouldn’t be able to if we gave up after scraping a knee or an elbow. It is definitely a key tool to have in your life belt to be able to hold your head up high and say, “that did not work, so how can I change that?” Being afraid of getting something wrong should not be on the agenda in a child’s life, being confident enough to try and fail is promoted in school these days as it should be in every day life.
“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” - Eloise Ristad
The man who started KFC, Colonel Sanders, began attempting to sell his fried chicken to different restaurants and companies after he retired at the age of 65. His idea was rejected more than 1000 times until finally his secret recipe was accepted and he went on to become one of the most recognised fast food trademarks in the world.
It isn't the failing that counts, it is what we do with it, as Gena Showalter said; “Giving up is the only sure way to fail.”
So what is the best way to install this into our children’s mindsets, to guide them into a positive train of thought if things don’t work out the way they had hoped?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” - Winston Churchill.
As Churchill so eloquently put it, we need to help children to develop courage and confidence. I think this is the best way for them to continue after rejection, to get up and go again after a fall. To show them by example that determination can lead them to where they want to go, giving up and allowing defeat will never end in triumph.
Teach them to have ideas; this may sound crazy as ideas aren't something that can actually be taught - but the concept of opening up our minds, using our imagination as well as logic and putting them into practice is something that can. Not all knowledge comes from books (or the internet) it comes from just that; putting ideas into practice. This will also teach a child how to fail, that it is completely fine and actually a positive thing to occur because you can then understand the flaws in your original plan and try something new. Being told you’re brilliant at something completely mundane and ‘normal’ like drawing a picture of a house, coming last in a race, everyone winning a medal for ‘taking part’ is all well and good for their morale up to a point, but surely all people need to be prepared for actual life on earth and not living on a fluffy cloud of parental exaggeration? If we were taught from a very young age to try something out and totally mess it up, but then be encouraged to try an alternative route, and be continuously encouraged each time a failure comes to pass, eventually their determination will grow and the fear of failure will convert into an understanding of how to work things out.
“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” - C.S. Lewis
It seems like a lot of kids these days go through school, college, university etc. and come out the other end believing they can achieve their dream job, life, etc. all at once - it will all just directly fall into their lap and hey presto, everything they ever wanted will unfurl at their feet. This notion stems partly from the digital world we live in where instant gratification is the norm. We order online, we make friends online, we want stimulation; it is right there at our fingertips. Are we losing the ability or gift to think for ourselves?
I really believe that learning to be wrong, learning to make mistakes, and in turn, learning from our shortfalls is one of the best, most fulfilling lessons we can provide. To congratulate a child for trying is positive but only when it comes with the knowledge that something must be learned from the mistake; guidance on this is paramount to develop determination, inspiration and motivation to keep going with something they are passionate about.
“You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Richard Branson
It may be that a child is pursuing something that they really are hopeless at, so when do you step in and how? If you’re having to listen to them howling from the next room in an attempt to become the next big thing in the charts and it is pretty clear that is never going to be the case, perhaps they need a little dissuading in the form of encouragement from a different angle; like - joining a music group, perhaps they’ll find they can drum or love the guitar. But absolutely not to give them the feeling that giving up on a dream is the best option… they may just need a little guidance in finding the right path.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” Paolo Coelho.
A great tool in building confidence is to find extra activities such as a drama group or public speaking whereby learning to be comfortable in your skin, and able to stand tall in front of your peers and elders becomes second nature. Volunteer groups or community projects, getting involved with the environment and surroundings all helps to create inspiration and nurture the child as their own being, who is independent, capable and a valuable part of something. They don’t always need to feel tested and striving, they can safely be an important piece of something greater. Having outside interests they can call their own will often help them to find their true passions, to seek these out will then guide them on the path towards their eventual goals and dreams…they then just need to have the courage to go out and get them and be free from the fear of failure.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” - Denis Waitley