Failure and its role in Success

These days it seems, particularly here in America, that there’s so much focus on succeeding and being the best and the brightest. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. But really, what has that led us to? Kindergartners and first-graders who are anxiety-ridden. Parents pushing the teachers to push their little darlings to the top of the class. Young adults who have had so much inundation of how “special” they are and how “great” they are that they can’t handle the rejection of not getting the job they wanted. Adults working in the corporate structure who are pushing themselves to the point of having breakdowns. It’s sad.

What’s lacking from our education system, our “everybody’s a winner because you participated” system, is the fact that failure (and practice or trying again) has a critical role in every success. One of my favorite authors, Jenn McKinlay, posted a photo of her rejection folder on Facebook recently and it got me thinking about this topic.

We spend time talking about Edison and his inventions, but we don’t often talk about the fact that he tried over 100 times to create the lightbulb. It’s so important to recognize that every person who has succeeded, rarely gets it on the first try. There’s all kinds of practice and experimenting that go behind those successes.

My favorite television series of all time is The West Wing. One of my favorite episodes comes from season 2 of the series. The title of the episode is “Galileo” and it’s about a probe that’s supposed to land on Mars and the president is supposed to hold a virtual classroom with about 60,000 school children across the country.  Something goes wrong, but C.J., the press secretary, convinces President Bartlet to continue the classroom by telling him,

“We have at our disposal a captive audience of school children. Some of them don’t go to the blackboard or raise their hand ’cause they think they’re going to be wrong. I think you should say to these kids, “You think you get it wrong sometimes, you should come down here and see how the big boys do it.” I think you should tell them you haven’t given up hope and that it may turn up, but, in the meantime, you want NASA to put its best people in a room and you want them to start building Galileo 6. Some of them will laugh and most of them won’t care but for some, they might honestly see that it’s about going to the blackboard and raising your hand.”

I think that statement is dead on correct. It *is* about going to the blackboard and raising your hand. It’s about trying and trying, perhaps failing, learning from the failure and trying again. I understand that we want our children to have good self-esteem and I don’t have children of my own, so I can only comment based on my own experiences and things I observe from working in a library. I want children to have good self-esteem and not think that they are stupid or less worthy than some other child, but I want that to somehow come with the knowledge that failure is not stupid or bad or wrong. The point of life is about getting back up, brushing yourself off and trying again. The only true failure is if you quit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as bad as anyone else. I strive to be perfect. I always have. Yes, there are reasons behind that mentality, but that’s not the main focus.  I pushed myself far too hard in my K-12 education. And even though I’ve gotten better at allowing myself to fail and get back up again, there are still times when the anxiety comes, bringing its message that I’m not “good enough” unless I’m perfect. It’s hard to fight those feelings unless we somehow instill in our children from the get-go that failure or losing is *NOT* a horrible, world-crushing thing. Everyone wants to be a winner and there’s nothing wrong with wanting that. It keeps us striving to better ourselves. We just have to somehow remind ourselves and our children that being the loser is not the worst thing in the world either.

As always, your views and your experiences may vary, especially if you’re in a different country/culture than I am.

Thanks for joining me along this journey.

2 thoughts on “Failure and its role in Success

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