It was the last day of my first job. I packed a few pictures, some files and a dying houseplant in copy paper box. I had decided to leave my dream job just a few weeks shy of a year. As I looked around my office, I realized what I thought was a dream come true had turned into a disaster. A set of uncontrollable circumstances mixed with several huge mistakes of my own had created my first epic failure. I felt the weight of my current situation grow heavier. This wasn’t solely my fault, but in that moment it didn’t matter. I had failed.
I would like to say that I handled this failure with grace, courage, and determination. However, that was not the case. At the time I didn’t realize that out of this failure would come an opportunity for success. The next few years would bring joy and a renewed sense of purpose. First, however, I had to learn how to fail.
Failure is a part of life. It doesn’t discriminate. It crosses age, gender, and race. Failure doesn’t care about your economic status. Some successes can’t be bought. Failure can be big or small. No matter the size, we can all remember the feeling that failure brings. We can often look back at our failures like milestones. We allow them to determine the direction of our lives.
When I became a parent, I began to reflect on different experiences I have had with failure. Some failures I handled well and others I handled terribly. I realized that as a parent I need to be teaching my children how to fail. Through my experiences with failure, I have learned many lessons. I believe that by teaching my children the art of failure I am giving them a tool. The art of navigating through a failure is one that takes lifelong study and practice.
Frist of all, I believe it is important to empathize with their feelings. We all appreciate when someone validates our feelings. Even if the failure seems small to us, we must keep in mind that the child’s current situation feels big to them. It is easy to be dismisses of the tears over spilled milk or a lost board game. However a quick validation of feelings communicates to the child that it is safe to fail.
Next, we should model for them how to fail gracefully and with courage. I was shocked one day when my son asked me if I ever make mistakes. As a mother, I am constantly making mistakes. I realized when the opportunity is appropriate I should be more transparent with my son about my own shortcomings. Whether we realize it or not, our children watch us closely all the time. They are constantly learning from our actions and words even if they aren’t directed at them. They model what they see and hear. As parents, we are their best teachers. If my child sees me dwell on my failure, he will wallow in his own. If my child sees me accept and take responsibility the failure, then he will be more likely to accept his own.
Finally, failure isn’t the end. It is an opportunity. It is the chance to learn a valuable lesson. It could be the time to make a change. It may even make the way for an better path. As we lovingly guide our children through failures, we should point out the lessons and opportunities that come out that particular of failure. We can gently remind them to listen to others that are wiser and seek advice before they act. We can offer guidance to change a behavior to one that may produce a better outcome Most importantly, we can offer the encouragement to be brave and take the next step. Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” Your failure is not what defines your path. It is the courage to take the opportunity for growth and change. We cannot succeed unless we try.