When was the last time you failed at something? How did you handle that failure? Were you disappointed? Frustrated? Angry? Did you quit after you failed—or keep trying?
My guess is that you probably don’t like thinking about your failures. I know I don’t. I’m the kind of person who would rather just not try something to avoid failing miserably. I guess that means I have a fear of failure—but I’m not alone.
Why has failure become such a bad word in American culture? Whether or not we like to admit it, we learn more from our failures than our successes. Failing is actually a critical part of the learning process. As Dr. John Orlando explains,
The military understands the benefits of failure and actually gives soldiers tasks that they know will lead to failure at some point as a part of their training. Similarly, pilots are trained on simulators and given a variety of emergency situations until they fail.
A former mentor of mine told a great story about how when he was starting out as a young lawyer, he won several cases in a row. He got cocky, thinking he was great at his job. It wasn’t until he lost his first case that he started learning the essentials of how to really do his job. When he lost, he went to the members of the jury to ask them what he did wrong—and what he could have done better.
I’m raising a child who does not like to fail. He wants to be the best at everything he does. He cries when he loses. He gets angry with himself when he doesn’t understand something the first time.
As a parent, I want to see my children succeed. I want to see them happy. However, I also understand that now is the time for kids to learn the value of failing. Through failing, we are able to self-assess, redirect, and come back to the task with a stronger plan.
Failure Teaches Resilience
An article in Healthy Children Magazine gives a great definition of resilience and expresses its importance:
In today’s environment, children and teens need to develop strengths, acquire skills to cope, recover from hardships, and be prepared for future challenges. They need to be resilient in order to succeed in life.
With that goal in mind, I’d like to offer my own list of activities parents might engage their children in to teach them to overcome failure and strengthen their resilience:
- Go to a ropes course: If you haven’t ever seen a ropes course (sometimes called a challenge course), you might be surprised at how low-tech they seem. You may see telephone poles with ropes strung between them, a low balance-beam-type thing, hanging logs, or some platforms attached to trees. Ropes courses aren’t about fancy equipment (although the *safety* equipment is very fancy—don’t worry!); they’re about challenging what people (and teams) believe about their own abilities. Failure is part of the challenge. It’s what a person does after failing that makes the difference.
- Go Geocaching: Geocaching is an outdoor GPS “treasure hunt” where participants use coordinates to locate hidden caches. While many caches are easy to find, the degree of difficulty varies, meaning that sometimes you’ll fail at finding the cache. This is a great opportunity to talk about what comes after failure; what could we do the next time to be better prepared to locate the cache?
- Play a new sport: There are some people who are just naturally gifted at sports, but for most of us, playing a new sport means we’re going to fail until we figure it out. Some kids are going to want to give up—or may not even want to try—but this is a chance to discuss ways to overcome failure—using different equipment better sized for the participants, more practice, etc.
- Try an outdoor science experiment: Science is all about failing. It’s about trial and error. Even the best planned experiments fail many times before they succeed (if they ever do). This summer, try some outdoor science experiments. Maybe even set your kids up for failure the first time, allowing them the chance to figure out how to make the experiments succeed.
Failure shouldn’t be a bad word. Failure means we’re trying. Failing gets us one step closer to learning something new and teaches us to be resilient. What have you learned from your biggest failures?
Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside.
I experienced a two year period of epic fails. It was horrible at the time. I have scars but I learned a lot. I may write a book about it. I know my children will fail. I have to let them. I can teach them how to get back up again. That makes “failure” worth it for me.
Failure is one of those things that we don’t appreciate at the moment. It’s hard to get that clarity in the moment. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. It’s so difficult to have the patience to let things unfold. I’m glad you made it through that challenging time–and that there may be a book in it somewhere!
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Great post Amy, as a teacher we used to see it all the time the child who didn’t know how to handle failure and how to pick themselves up and try again….its true you learn far more from your failures than you do from your successes……blogging is one of those places where we try daily and meet with measured success I find, so you try once again, its become part of the fun of it all.
Yes, teachers definitely get a front-row seat to how kids work through failure. Do you find that kids can change in this area or that they’re pretty set in their patterns? I’ve always wondered what character traits are nature and which are nurture.
Hi amy, I once taught a boy who over the holidays thought his brains had fallen out as he couldn’t get the grasp of what we were doing. But it wasn’t long and he got his act together and did very well by the end of high school. I should point out I taught in a school with some very smart kids who were all very competitive in what they did.
I was a student like those at your school, and I sometimes think I’m worse at handling failure because I didn’t fail often enough. I learned eventually! It’s a tough lesson, though.
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Yes it is…..I always view it as there is always smarter than you so when failure knocks it doesn’t seem so bad….but kids can take ages to adjust, so good luck with it all….
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It is easier to make a big issue of failing than succeeding. Interesting writing on failure. 🙂
True. The hard part is that too much focus on success isn’t great either. Finding that balance is my continual struggle as a parent, especially with my son who doesn’t handle failure well.
I know. There has to be something to build on to get over the failure hurdle. They get so frustrated with themselves and that isn’t the best at all.
Our willingness (as parents) to admit to failure and deal with it also helps our children face failure better.
Im blogging from Fill the cracks and Moondustwriter’s Blog. Happy A to Zing!
Very true! We tend to try to shield children from so much, but they learn important lessons from their parents’ failings. Thanks for saying hello!
I agree, setbacks, failures are when we learn the most about ourselves and what we are capable of doing. I failed to write twenty books before finally writing one. Funny how I don’t seem to learn that lesson. I’ve failed to connect with an agent at least 20 times, but those 20 times have me on the back burner, waiting for something magical to happen. I need to do better.
I’d like to write a Part 2 to that post someday… a call to action for people to make a list of what they’ve considered failings–to see what they’ve learned from those experiences. For everything that’s gone wrong in my life, with patience, I can see the good that came from those experiences. You’ll use those failures with the first 20 agents to find the 21st!
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Failure in my life has often resulted from a desire to be a perfectionist at all costs. I have learned to consider all alternatives for action necessarily the perfect one.
Good point. I wrote a post about expectations a month or so ago, and it occurred to me that if I loosen up my grip on the expectations, failure isn’t nearly the disaster it could be otherwise.
Failure is the stepping stone to success.
Lots of great/famous people have a string of failure stories on the road to their eventual success.
It doesn’t happen over night.
We need to educate children and let them know that failure doesn’t make you less of a person…it actually helps to mold and shape your character.
So very well said, Michelle! I don’t think there’s a single person who is considered a success who hasn’t experienced major failure of some sort. It’s what they do after those failures that is impressive and noteworthy. Thanks for that reminder!