Redefining Failure for Success

I think most people gravitate toward safety by default.  Sure, you might have the toddler who climbs everything with a toe hold, but very often he, or she in my case, decides sooner or later that falling isn’t much fun.  As parents, we may also discipline this daring streak out of them.  Or, if they make it past those two speed bumps, then peers usually conform the adventurer to some form of passivity.

I believe this is akin to a slow killing of the soul.  If you don’t dream, you don’t grow.  If you don’t grow, you stagnate.  Once you stagnate, you die.

I am guilty of being conservatively optimistic.  I hope, but I don’t often put myself out there to fail.  If I am not in a position to fail, I’m also not in a position to succeed.  When you stand out of the rain, you have a ceiling you can’t get past, metaphorically speaking.

I am working toward a balance between teaching my daughters to carefully consider their actions while encouraging them to take chances.  I think there is room for both, and one without the other can be dangerous.  You can’t skydive without jumping, but you don’t jump without a parachute.  Not that I want to skydive.  I’m perfectly happy inside the plane.  Again, just a metaphor.

I’m working with my oldest daughter, in particular.  She is turning 14 in a month, and it’s time to consider how she will spend her high school years and beyond.  On the careful side, what does she need to know, whether she likes it or not?  On the dream side, we need to plan what she will study beyond the basics.  What interests will serve her well as an adult?

For example, personal finance is often overlooked by schools in favor of advanced mathematics.  Physics might not be called for if she goes into an arts field, but balancing a checkbook is an universal skill.  She might not need to know how to program in SQL, but basic HTML will be helpful in our Internet-centric world.

Taking chances is a big part of teaching teens to live outside their safety zone.  At a dance convention recently, I encouraged my daughter to audition for a scholarship.  There were hundreds of girls auditioning, so the chances of her succeeding were pretty slim, but the experience of auditioning, and even failing, were important milestones.  It sets a standard for where she was and defines goals on what to improve.

Life is full of failure, and the sooner my children learn how to turn failure into a learning experience, the better chance they have of succeeding.  The only true failure is when they never try.

How can you use failure to teach success?


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