Today’s children have been termed a “failure-deprived generation.” They have been cushioned from the blow of failure by parents who intercede on their behalf in every area of their lives to prevent the sting of defeat. These parents complain to teachers when their child gets a bad grade or try to persuade the coach to put their child in the game whether they are ready to play or not. However, depriving children of feeling failure is actually failing them in learning life skills. There is a big cost to this avoidance. Experiencing failures and setbacks in life is what helps us to grow and to achieve goals. Without it, we become stunted adults.
Failure is essential to life. Through it, we learn to take risks. Resiliency is our ability to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as we had hoped. Resilient people don’t dwell on their failures; they acknowledge the situation, learn from their mistakes, and then move forward. Being comfortable with failure ensures that we can get back on our feet and try again. According to legend, Thomas Edison made thousands of prototypes of his incandescent light bulb before he got it right and had tens of thousands of failures in his career. He never let it get the best of him and as a result, created some of the most amazing inventions of the early 20th century, including the phonograph, the telegraph and the motion picture.
There is no way to learn and grow without failure. Baseball players become skillful from dropping fly balls and striking out. They gain knowledge and confidence each time they fail until they achieve success. This confidence enables them to avoid feeling panic so they can try again. The real goal of education and training is to learn from errors through study and practice. This is true for our children when they are in school. Unfortunately, many teachers focus on a successful completion rather than the process of learning. It is believed that children may perform better in school and feel more confident if they are told that failure is a normal part of learning, rather than being pressured to succeed at all costs.
This is certainly true in the business world too. There are workshops for just this purpose where people publicly air their goof ups and rejections and discuss how to grow and move on from the experiences. They learn that confidence and intelligence are things you gain from effort and failures.
If people choose to only do those things they know they are good at, they will never move out of their comfort zone and pursue new avenues. This is how people stagnate at jobs, never moving forward or even laterally into different positions. They are afraid to try something that might bring about failure, so they stay nestled in their cocoon of comfort. However, it is that very failure that teaches them perseverance, empathy and resilience. The fear of failure becomes so frustrating that many talented people give up and do not pursue careers that they would otherwise find very rewarding. It is never too late for us to step out of our comfort zones. We need to try something we would normally not consider and stick with it until we feel comfortable. It can be new tasks at work, new fields of endeavor or even something as simple as taking yoga classes. Fear is a natural and essential part of growth. Every time we consciously choose to step outside of our comfort zone, things becomes a little bit easier.
Failing and failure are two different things. We may have failed at something that we hoped we could have achieved and it did not work out for us. But this does not make us failures. At least we can say we tried. We shouldn’t get down on ourselves. We have to rely on ourselves and have faith in our abilities to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Most importantly, as parents, allow your children to fail naturally so they can learn these important life skills early on and not let setbacks destroy them as they mature. We need a future generation of men and women who are willing to push their limits and create a better world for us all.