Let’s Redefine Failure

Where to start?  I think, at least in my experience, we have a horrible view of failure, a negative view of failure.  We are worried to try something for fear of getting it “wrong” the first time.  We study, we observe, we try to be sure we are going to get it right before we even attempt something.  From riding a bike to being a doctor to going on an adventure to starting a business and, most importantly, to chasing our dreams.

I was watching a movie the other day–a Christmas movie–and paused the movie to talk to my youngest son about failure.  I started to talk about failure, but stopped myself and asked him how he felt about failing.  I actually couldn’t believe how that sounded.  How do you feel about failing?  What the hell?  He said he wasn’t too concerned about it and didn’t really want to talk anymore; could he get back to his school work?  I continued talking and really thinking through the problem, reiterating at every turn that it was okay to fail.

Finally, my epiphany came.  It’s all because of grades that we have this unhealthy perception that failing is bad, that it’s the opposite of success, the opposite of good.  So, because of our grading system, we are afraid to fail.  This has transferred into all aspects of life for many, many people.  Possibly–and I am just throwing this out there–for everyone except those who got F’s in school and survived.  Getting F’s in school doesn’t actually measure ones intelligence or chance for success in life.  It measures your ability to memorize, sit still, conform, test well, follow the rules of an establishment, conform (did I say that already?), regurgitate information and suck up to teachers.

I get back to Christopher and detail my new-found knowledge with him; and I am angsty that this is a thing.  He’s supposed to be the angsty teen, by the way.  I tell him that I am happy he seems to not be negatively affected by this phenomenon.  He’s not devoid of concern about failing; it’s just more subtle.  He says to me that he was always a good student in elementary school and has been home schooled in middle school so he hasn’t had to deal with “failing” grades or that possibility.  For this, I am actually relieved. Next year, he goes to high school and we will definitely have a much different perspective on grades than we have in the past.  I have always told my kids we expect them to do their best, and I mostly still believe that, maybe with a few modifiers.

So, what are you not doing because you are afraid of failing?  Do you measure your life, successes, progress, etcetera on a grading system?  If so, who decides what constitutes an A or an F or a C?  How can we change our outlook on failure?  How can we raise our children to not be concerned only with grades, with getting A’s in a significantly subjective world?

Maybe we take back the word: give it less weight, less value or importance.  Next time I forget something at the grocery store, maybe I will say well, you failed at that shopping trip!! Forgot your coat: fail.  Burnt the cookies: fail.  How about every year that you don’t do something you love, want to, dream of doing; you say I failed at not going back to school or to grad school, or I failed at not going on that tropical vacation, or I failed at not taking care of myself?

It’s not super easy to change your perspective, especially when it’s ingrained so deeply, but it is certainly worth a try.

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