How many times have you read or heard that the most successful people in the world failed over and over again, before succeeding? Tons, right? Walt Disney declared bankruptcy 7 times; Michael Jordan was cut from his High School Basketball Team. Thomas Edison failed 1000 times…or did he? he maintained that it took him 1000 steps to invent the lightbulb.
Many of the world’s most successful people claim that failure is an important, if not required part of the process. Why is it then that so many people fear failure? For some the fear is so real that they practice avoidance, simply, they don’t put themselves in a position to fail. To me, this is scary, not scary because people may be limiting their growth or missing out on countless opportunities, but that many of these people are raising children. And I don’t know many, if any, parents that do not love their kids so much that they will do almost anything to keep them from hurting. That includes…allowing them to fail.
This is most notable in youth sports, too many anecdotes to share but it has become a real problem. More often than not, parents struggle to accept that their child just may not be as good, or may not work as hard as others, and so the blame goes to the coaches. In reality, those are the struggles that most high performing athletes have overcome at some point in their careers, and it helped to shape them. It is also evident in Academics, questioning the validity of Standardized Test Scores, blaming the educational institutions and teachers if their children fail to succeed. It has gotten so bad (at least in my opinion) that some employers are allowing recent University Graduates to bring their parents to Job Interviews…just allow that to marinate for a minute.
So, let’s peel back the onion shall we…what could be the reason…Millennials, I blame the Millennials…Just kidding, although it is a common sentiment, or at least one that is used as a tongue in cheek reference. It is not the fault of That generation but more of the perceived outcome of the times that we live in. As a Generation X-er, I feel fortunate that while I use the same technology, social media, etc. as everyone else, I grew up at a time when technology came in slowly. I was exposed to albums, cassette tapes, CDs and DVDs and my first phone was a bag phone. What does that mean for me and for my generation? That means that our parents were Baby Boomers who were themselves raised by the Greatest Generation where hard work trumped everything else and common expressions were…”if you get knocked down, get back up again, I don’t care what you do, as long as I don’t see it or hear about it”. And if you got hurt on the playground or ball field, it was…”Rub some dirt on it and take a lap” or “Walk it off” as long as you did all of that and got home before the street lights came on.
Hard work and failure were a part of life growing up and it carried into adulthood. The difference is that when we failed or made seriously questionable and just plain bad decisions, we did so outside of the public eye. We didn’t have cell phones to record our every move. Sure, I am sure a lot of us have that Fraternity Brother or classmate that will “Always have a job” if we endeavor into Public Office of some type, but there was no real evidence of our questionable or poor decisions and the life lessons that came from them other than the witnesses who were there to either participate or just watch.
The current tech landscape is so different and pervasive now, and it is no secret. From participation awards to Internet Millionaires and YouTube Sensations and most recently, the desire to be TikTok Famous have become actual goals. There is limited room for failure. So much of the news is focused on the extreme, from extreme success to extreme failure and tragedy, that the expectation for wild success without the effort is a prevailing theme. It is no wonder that there is a focus on the fear of failure and going to long lengths to protect our children. But at what cost?
How many times have you either said or heard…”I just don’t my kids to have to suffer the way that I did?” or the response, “Me neither, so I am doing everything in my power to prevent that?” Think for a second about how you got to where you are today, that “Suffering” was likely not suffering at all but just common struggles, struggles with money, relationships, sports etc. Those struggles turned into life lessons. We have all heard the famous Henry Ford quote that a “Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail”. And I would bet that a lot of us have learned that lesson. There you have it, WE learned by doing or not doing and thereby learned through failure. That kind of thing only has to happen 1 or 2 times until someone changes their behavior. So if your own failure and your own challenges, changed your behavior, built character and turned you into the person that you are today, why would you not allow your children to learn the same life lessons and build their own character from their choices and their challenges?
These principles should apply to all aspects of life. Just look at Andy Reed, who just led the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl Victory. If you don’t think that he learned from the lessons of the 2005 Super Bowl or most recently, last year’s AFC Championship, you are nuts. I am willing to bet that the reason that he brought Donovan McNabb to speak to his team before the Super Bowl, was to share his experiences and the lessons that he learned by getting so close but by ultimately, FAILING…but did he? Sure, he got to the Super Bowl and did not win, but that did not or does not make him a failure.
Do your children a favor, let them fail, over and over. Support them and love them, but do not protect them from learning valuable life lessons and skills through overcoming adversity and the occasional crash and burn. You never know how learning to deal with failure, will shape their future unless you allow that to happen…as hard as that may seem. Fail Forward.