Why We Should Be Taught How to Fail
When I was in high school my favorite teacher said, “The ‘A’ student will end up working for the ‘D’ student someday.”
I worked hard to get perfect grades and high SAT scores because I had been told since I was in kindergarten that it was the only way to success. More than that, I felt my intelligence was my worth, and to have anything less than an ‘A’ brought deep shame that I had failed.
When I look back, I wonder at the pressure my teachers placed on the children in my honor’s program. By the time I was twelve I felt like my life had been mapped out: university, job, marriage, and family. There wasn’t a whole lot of space for messing up, failure, or trying things for the sake of seeing if I liked them.
There was a job to get done, and my whole life and my happiness seemed to rely on not failing.
In my adult life, I’ve learned the hard way that perfection is fleeting; it’s something that happens every once in awhile. Think of an Olympic skater who’s performed the clean program. It doesn’t happen at every competition. It’s an elusive creature that is celebrated for a moment until the competitor returns to work.
Yet, anyone who has ever tried to achieve anything important to them, who hasn’t reached the accomplishment, will walk away feeling like a failure. It’s engrained into our young minds that only one outcome is perfect, all else is less than what could’ve been achieved.
Recently I read an article about one of the best white water kayakers in the world, Nouria Newman. At 27-years-old this woman has accomplished more than most people have in a lifetime. She’s defied nature by kayaking the impossible. In one bad season, and the inability to enter the United States to compete due to Visa issues, she took a trip in order to deal with her feelings of failure.
Why do we carry this deep burden as if all that we’ve accomplished means nothing if we have one bad or a string of bad showings? I believe it starts at a young age, and it grows with our media. Failure is taught to be perceived as bad.
What if it was actually good? What if it were taught to us in a positive way as early as childhood to be a part of our lives and something to be celebrated?
Would we take more risk? Would we allow more creativity to come to life? Would we chase more dreams?
Whenever I speak to people about going after their dreams the first words out of their mouth are, “I’m too afraid that I’ll fail.”
I’ve learned that it isn’t fear that actually stops them — it’s the programming that began at an early age that it’s not okay to fail.
The only way to grow in life, to achieve dreams, to become more confident as a person, is to fail.
So why did the teacher say that the ‘A’ student will work for the ‘D’ student. I believe it’s because the ‘D’ student was comfortable with what was deemed as failure. Many ‘D’ students tend to be more social and learn better networking techniques. Mostly, they never became addicted to what I like to call “the perfection syndrome”, where you thrive off of praise for getting things right.
The ‘A’ student works for that perfection, oftentimes afraid of what the failure of even a ‘B’ will feel like. They want to always remain in the good graces of those in authority. The perfection can never continue unless one stays safe and within a comfort zone, playing by the rules.
What if we were taught not to just get ‘A’s but to take the chance and allow the failures to happen? If we learned that it was normal and okay from an early age, then wouldn’t it be easier as we grew, to design our own lives, take more risks, because we’d know that failure is just a normal part of the process.