Why are so many of us afraid to fail?
We worry what people will think, that we won’t look good/smart/capable enough if we fail. After all, most people who fail on television and in movies are losers – rejected, teased, unwanted, unattractive people, right? Who would risk this?
Failing is temporary. Understanding where we went wrong teaches important life skills, such as patience, perseverance, decision making, and problem solving. Fear of failure is sometimes connected with shame. Instead of saying, “I made a mistake’ (temporary), shame strikes at the core of who we are as people. Shame says, “I am a mistake.”
That is an all too easy leap of logic for some of us. We can learn from mistakes, but we are not our mistakes. Henry Ford understood this.
Parenting and teaching experts encourage us to focus on the effort a child puts in, not so much the results — “Wow, you really tried hard on that!” When effort is encouraged, studies show children are far more likely to attempt a more challenging task next time.
Why do we appreciate effort in children more than adults? As adults we seem to forget that it takes a lot of practice to be good at complex tasks. Performance is not a fixed ability beyond an individual’s control. You’re not born an Olympic swimmer, or a violinist, or a parent. Connecting achievement with effort (Rome wasn’t built in a day) is empowering and leaves room for growth.
Seeing failure and mistakes positively, as a marker of what still needs to be learned can liberate us to push limits, stretch ourselves, take risks and be the person we are meant to be.
Kids watch grown-ups, a lot. How do we model failure to children? I used (excused) my mistakes as a teacher to show my students I wasn’t perfect, (that it’s not the end of the world) and how I might bounce back. This sometimes goofy approach encouraged students to have a go.
Recently my youngest daughter gave me a dose of my own medicine when I was
whinging despondent about something and wanted to give up . “If you love it, you won’t stop, you’ll just keep trying and get better at it.”
Arafura – chapter 23 (I’ve had my rant, now Adam can have his)
Adam gathered his thoughts, clearly frustrated.
“What’s wrong with failing? Why do people think failing at one thing makes them a failure in general?” He drew a deep breath, as if gathering the patience to explain for the hundredth time.
“History is full of successful people who failed, often repeatedly. Walt Disney? – not enough imagination, multiple bankruptcies. Darwin? – considered below intellect. Einstein? – expelled from school. Winston Churchill? – a string of political failures. J.K. Rowling & your friend Dr Seuss? – rejected by multiple publishers. Abraham Lincoln, Monet, Mozart….it’s a long list.”
Kat looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Have you quite finished?”
“It annoys me! People have such a fixed idea of who they are and what they can do.”
BTW – One of my favourite books is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – by Susan Jeffers
Jeffers asks, “What is stopping you from being the person you want to be and living your life the way you want to live it? The answer is fear.”
Comments, thoughts? 🙂