When we think of the word “failure” it can often bring up thoughts of inadequacy, not being good enough, or being unsuccessful in a particular aspect of life. Many times children feel if they don’t get the answer right the first time or make a mistake when learning a new skill, that somehow they have failed.
What if, instead of viewing mistakes or failure as something negative that indicates a deficit we possess, we begin to view it as an opportunity? Imagine that - failure is an opportunity! An opportunity for growth, an opportunity to learn and thoroughly understand, an opportunity to achieve something great!
In 2011, Denzel Washington talked about this exact thing in his commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania. His message was one of “falling forward” and turning failure into an opportunity to achieve greatness. Three main lessons come from Mr. Washington’s speech that all children would benefit from knowing.
#1: You will fail at something. Do you have the guts to fail?
- There is no way around it. Failure is bound to happen at some point in our lives. It may be embarrassing, it may be disappointing, but it is inevitable, so the best thing to do is accept it and embrace it.
- Even if there is a chance you may fail, still be willing to take the risk. It may not always be easy, but the reward for accomplishing something new is worth it.
#2: If you don’t fail, you’re not even trying.
- Let’s think about the well-known quote about a baby learning to walk. The quotes states, “When a child learns to walk and falls down 50 times, he never thinks to himself, maybe this isn’t for me.”
- If you are learning something new, you will experience some failure. The key to growing and progressing, much like the baby finally being able to walk on her own, is to keep trying. It may not be until the 10th time or 100th time, but growth will come.
#3: To get something you’ve never had, you need to do something you’ve never done.
- You need to reach beyond your comfort zone. Don’t settle. This is how you grow.
- You need to challenge yourself. Push yourself to limits you never knew were possible.
- It’s OK to stand out. If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, then your work will be like everyone else’s. Take a chance and do something different.
- Keep learning! This means to be curious about the world around you, read as many books as you can, and ask questions. Always ask questions!
So, how do we begin to change our relationship with failure?
- Push yourself to think in new ways. Take a risk and try something out of the ordinary when solving a new problem.
- If you experience so-called failure along the way, remind yourself you have just learned what does not work and have possibly been pointed in a direction closer to finding what does work. The New Mexico School for the Arts bases their whole program on this very concept. Read more about it here.
- Consider adopting a growth mindset. Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, coined the term to describe one’s belief that his or her abilities can be strengthened through dedication and hard work, not just brains and talent alone.
- Above all else, remember: when you experience failure that results in your growth, that’s worth celebrating!
Changing our relationship with failure and instilling that in our children can be a tough task at times. The disappointment often felt with failure can be difficult to combat. However, when we begin to celebrate persevering through failure and taking risks to find new ways to solve problems, the world becomes an exciting place full of limitless opportunities. How do you think failure has propelled you forward in your own life? Share these stories with your children. Celebrate growth that comes from their own failure. Remind them of the many individuals that had to experience failure before arriving at their own successful place in life. As E.O. Wilson once stated, “You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.”