The thing about failure is that it happens – often. Sometimes multiple times a day, in little ways and big ways. Sadly, most of us were raised to believe, consciously or sub-consciously, that our lovability is directly tied to our success or failure. Failure becomes something that stands between us and love and acceptance and, because of that, is REALLY BAD.
I believe our parents didn’t really know any better. Our society thrives on success stories and doesn’t spend a lot of time celebrating all the failures that came before the success. Our parents want the best for us, just as we want the best for our children, and the result is an attitude of “do better, do your best, you have to succeed.” Personally, I want better for us as women and for our children. I want us to work together to create communities and families where failure is celebrated as much as the ultimate success is.
Failure is a Building Block of Success
Have you ever seen a baby when they’re first learning to walk? They fall down a lot and when they do, the adults around them cheer and clap before encouraging them to try again. Success comes as a result of the process of trying, failing, celebrating little victories, trying something new, and developing strength through repeated attempts. This formula for success works when babies learn to walk, and it works when we learn to succeed at any new endeavor.
The Formula for Success
Celebrate what went right
Learn from what went wrong
Develop strength through trying again
The opposite of the celebrating, cheering and encouragement is beating ourselves up, discouragement, and quitting or defeat.
We're Learning How to Fail Well
Most of us did not learn how to fail well as we were growing up. Mostly, we just tried to avoid failing in the first place. For me, failure brings up feelings of shame, rejection, and punishment. I struggle with feeling unlovable, not good enough, stupid, etc. It’s a horrible place to be. Through choosing to celebrate failure, I’m learning how to fail well.
Failing well means that we learn a new way of looking at failure and a new way of talking to ourselves when we do fail. It means, instead of trying to escape from the flood of negative emotions and self-talk, we choose to embrace them, analyze them and the situation and discover the truth – about ourselves and our failure.
This is not an easy process. Some of the things that have helped me to learn this new way of failing well are:
Journaling - getting the whole mess out on paper
Talking to my husband and/or a trusted friend
Analyzing what happened, what I’m responsible for, what was out of my control, and what I could do differently next time
Taking time to identify what went right and celebrate that
We Want Our Children to Learn to Fail Well
We want to empower our children to be brave and bold, to set some seriously kick-ass goals and pursue them with passion, to have lives that are fulfilling and joyful, and to see and pursue opportunities that maybe we didn’t. We don’t want our kids to grow up and live quiet, safe, unsatisfying lives because they’re weighed down by unnecessary fear and shame.
We learn to fail well so that we can teach our children to fail well. Sometimes, we learn to fail well by teaching it to our children. I was able to practice giving my children grace and using my head-knowledge long before those lessons made the trek from my head to my heart. I’m learning to fail well by listening to how I speak to my children about failing and learning to speak to myself the same way. It’s a process of learning and growing together.
The great thing about childhood and the teen years is that they give us plenty of opportunity to practice failing well. Yes, we are raising our kids to become productive adults, and one of the ways that we do this is by allowing them to practice the skills they’ll need as adults now, while they’re still young enough that, for the most part, failure and bad choices won’t have such a lasting negative impact.
This means we have to let our children fail. Then, when they fail, we have to give them the words and encouragement they need to learn from those failures. How we talk to them, and ourselves, when failure happens, is how they’re going to talk to themselves for years to come. Let’s let them practice so that by the time they’re adults, they’ve already started to develop some strength in the failing well department.
Have you identified what lies you hear when you fail? What are some truths that you can tell yourself when this happens?
How do you learn from your own failures?
How are you teaching your children to fail well?