“Since the way we learn is by making mistakes, the greatest risk of all is to wait too long to begin making those.”
“Failure defeats losers, failure inspires winners.” Robert T. Kiyosaki, author, entrepreneur, investor.
“Entrepreneurs average 3.8 failures before final success. What sets the successful ones apart is their amazing persistence.” Lisa M. Amos
“I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison.
The topic this month is all about the success of failing. This blog is for all of us: parents, spouses, children, business owners, etc. To fail, according to the dictionary, is “lack of success; nonperformance of something due, expected or required. . .” For those of us who ever truly failed, be it a grade in college, a relationship, a project, a job, or a business, there is a feeling of shame, desperation, loss, and a general “I’m a loser” feeling. On the flip side, for most of us reading this, that’s the last time that particular failure happened (not to be confused with not ever failing at something again). We learned from the pain and disappointment that we caused ourselves. Whether we fared better the next time depended upon a lot of things: our willingness to try again; our support system; our belief that we could learn; changing environments that were more favorable to our success, etc. Failure is so important that the Harvard Business Review devoted a whole issue to it.
One of the biggest gifts parents can give their children is the opportunity to fail. I was raised in an environment (having three brothers and growing up in the country) where we were encouraged to explore the outside world. Admittedly, there were fewer dangers than there are now; it was a different time. But I was encouraged to venture out and learn. I fell out of a tree during a “Battle Stations!” exercise with my cousin. I was about 15 feet up, and fell onto a bobbed wire fence. I have the scar on my leg. I learned quickly what a dead branch looked like; but I continued climbing trees. I did fail a course in college: second semester calculus (222 for those of you who went to the UW). I learned to get tutors, and to drop courses earlier in the semester. I also learned that Engineering was not for me. So I was given ample room to make mistakes and learn. I can really appreciate that now. But I had parents that said, well, what did you learn (I didn’t tell them about Calc until many years later. . .)? Then they told me to get back up and try again. And so I did.
As a parent of three, I found it quite easy to let my children make mistakes when they were younger. I intuitively knew it was how they learned. I watched from the sidelines and smiled and hugged them when they made mistakes. As any parent who has a child who plays sports knows, it’s hard to watch from the sidelines sometimes, but it’s their game, not ours. It was easier when my children were younger to let them make mistakes. Fall off the bike? Tell them to get back on. Didn’t do so well on a project? They learned to manage it better the next time. But now my children are older, and their mistakes tend to have harsher consequences. And I find myself stepping in when I intuitively know they are going to learn so much better if I let them figure it out. It’s so frustrating, though. Can’t they learn from my experience? Why do they have to make the same mistakes I made? I don’t want them to feel the pain I felt when I made my mistakes. It feels counter-intuitive to loving them.
It is extremely difficult for a parent to watch their older child fail. I was working with one family where the father built an extremely successful business. His daughter (and son-in-law) opened a business in an ancillary industry. She was making rookie mistakes, and it was driving the father nuts. His heart was in the right place. He could not understand why his daughter would not listen to him, since he had experience in that industry. His frustration came out in shouting matches which brought the daughter to tears. The hardest thing (and best) was to let her make mistakes. Not exactly the same as failure, but in the same vein. The father asked me with such pain in his eyes why couldn’t he save her? I told him one of the biggest reasons he was so successful was because he made mistakes! She needed to make her own, too.
If you cut the chrysalis open for the butterfly, without letting the butterfly struggle a bit, it will die because the wings do not have the requisite strength to fly. You must let them struggle to strengthen their wings. Only then will they become the beautiful creatures they were meant to be. I need to remember that my children need to struggle a bit, too. Then they will become the beautiful creatures they were meant to be.