The Power of Failure
Failure: Sentence OR Opportunity
The word "failure" is enough to make hearts stop and stomachs drop. It is a word that can hold a lot of power, and the experience behind it can make or break success. There are not many people who look forward to or enjoy their failures, and there are plenty of people who view failure - of a relationship, project, class, or attempt - as enough to deter them from trying again. This then changes their future behavior to help them avoid those same sensations:
"That breakup was devastating, so next time I just won't open up as much."
"I should stick to Writing, since I know I am good at it. I do not care about Math anyway."
"Everything I do blows up in my face!"
Those are just a few examples of the power of failure as a deterrent. What if, instead of viewing failure as a sentence or judgment, we used it - and helped our youth to use it - as an opportunity to learn and grow?
A few weeks ago, we shared a TED talk by Carol Dweck on our Facebook page. She speaks about the ability to develop a growth mindset, and the power of "yet". In other words, if a child says, "I flunked that test because I am terrible at math!" you can remind them "You just have not mastered it yet. What tools do you have that can help you for next time?"
NPR posted an article in May that discusses how parents can influence their child's view of failure, stating that there is a "powerful influence that beliefs people internalize as children follow them through life." This belief is observed across cultures, even as the meaning of failure is different.
The trick, Dweck and others support, is viewing the endeavor as a skill that can be developed, and believing that change and improvement is possible, rather than only focusing on the final goal (or grade). Adults that shared this mindset with youth encouraged them to be concerned with their learning and improvement, rather than just the final product. This flexibility builds character development that can overflow into other areas of life.
Sometimes we can put in all the right effort, and the outcome still is not what we desired. Managing what we have control over - our effort - and teaching youth to do the same, can boost their confidence and chances for future success. As Thomas Edison is quoted to have said, "I have not failed, I just found 10,000 ways that don't work."