Why Failure Is Really a Success

When something doesn’t go your way, what’s the first thought that pops into your head? Do you chastise yourself? Or do you reassure yourself that you are growing stronger and wiser with each challenge you face?

In reality, it's not the successes that make you a stronger, more successful person, it's the failures. 

You Can Only Appreciate Success After You've Failed

This may sound odd, but each failure you have is actually a success. Why, you ask? Because it gives you the opportunity to improve, learn, and try again. Let’s take a look at a couple of the world’s greatest failures that lead to the some of the most ubiquitous inventions of our time.

  • Did you know that 3M’s greatest failure was inventing glue that won’t stick? That glue became the basis for the sticky backing on the “Post-It Note.”
  • Albert Einstein received poor marks in school because of his daydreaming. The same creative thinking became the basis of theoretical physics that changed the world. 
  • In 1885, John Pemberton tried to create a "brain tonic" to help cure headaches. What he ended up with was Coca-Cola.
  • J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter story was rejected 12 times before she found a publisher.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that each failure you encounter will land you with an immediate success. But it’s always a stepping-stone along the way.

Thomas Edison had an incredibly positive attitude about failure. When he was questioned as to why so many of his experiments were failures, he responded by saying that he never had a failure in any of his experiments, rather, each experiment helped him discover another way that something would not work. In reality, sometimes the only way to know whether you've succeeded is to fail. 

Learning How to Deal with Disappointment

Dealing with the disappointment of failure can be tough for adults as well as for children. But everyone experiences failure at some point in their lives and teaching our children how to deal with the disappointment is a critical life lesson.

Can you imagine a young adult, either a teen or college student, dealing with their first failures in the workplace? A tantrum at any age is not appealing, never mind from an adult who should know better.

Consider the very wise words of Winston Churchill who said, "Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm."

What did he mean exactly? Well, here are three reasons why failing is a good thing:

  • Inspiration: Think about your childhood when you didn’t get something right the first time. What did you do? Tried again and again! Each time the thought in your head was, “I am going to get it right this time!” What better motivation do you need?
  • Humility: No one is perfect, sometimes we need to be reminded of that very fact! Can you imagine a world where no one ever failed, and we all walked around thinking we were God’s gift to the world?
  • Learning: Success makes you feel good but failing teaches you a lesson. Think back to the first time you swung a bat, learned to walk, or tried to eat with a fork. Did you do it right the first time? Of course not. Did you figure out with each failure what you were doing wrong? Well, if you can swing a bat today, walk and eat with a fork then I guess you did!

Helping Your Children Deal with Disappointment and Failure

Children can be especially frustrated with failure in personal goals or educational achievement. The same main learning points can help children when they meet with disappointment or failure.

  • Inspiration: Just as mentioned above, some amazing products were "failures" for the original intention. The final product was an amazing success. Can you imagine life without the post-it note?
  • Humility: It definitely helps to teach your children the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is when you believe that who you are is set in stone. Once you get to a certain point in your life, you can’t change and grow any more. With a growth mindset, you see yourself as a work in progress. You can always improve and get better. When you help your child to develop a growth mindset, they will be more intrinsically motivated to do their best. 
  • Learning: The engineering design process requires a circle of steps: questioning, designing, creating, testing, and then, of course, starting the process over again with questioning. Without the constant redesign and testing, the products will never be the best they can be. Each failure (or test) helps the engineer learn what could be improved. Children can learn in like manner throughout their life how to improve. 

I particularly like the book Lifelong Kindergarten by Mitchel Resnick for a great examination of how these design principles help us learn throughout the educational years and into adulthood.

Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers and Play focuses on how to encourage creativity in children. Mitchel Resnick has been of a director at MIT's Media Lab (home of MIT's Scratch coding project). As a homeschool mom, I've found his advice on how to encourage lifelong learning truly inspiring. It's meant to be more of a hands-off approach from the teacher! Lifelong "kindergarten" is a goal of mine. Is my school that "fun"?

How Resilient from Failure Are You and Your Children?

Failure brings positive change and success to those who are resilient. Are you resilient? Are your children resilient? Download this free checklist for ideas to help your children become more resilient.

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