Phoenix © Nela Dunato
my DD is in the LR blissfully watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the first time and reveling in the music and colour and fantasy that is a decades-old children’s classic; the lyrics of one of the songs from the film just struck me: “From the ashes of disaster / Grow the roses of success!” and yet so many of us seem of have an abject fear of failure, and it gets passed on to our children… why is that?
Rick Ackerly, regular contributor to Divine Caroline and current Head of School at Children’s Day School in San Francisco, summed it up nicely in a recent post: “Our culture has a built-in notion that self-esteem is a function of success, praise, and staying “positive.” Actually, that’s wrong. Self-esteem is a function of enthusiastic struggle, an important part of which is making mistakes.” Begging to differ slightly w/the expert, I think this misguided protectionism is a relatively recent phenomenon, as I don’t recall 30-odd yrs ago any of my teachers, supervisors, my parents, etc. feeling the need to make sure I felt all warm and fuzzy even when I was doing something wrong, incorrectly, badly, etc.; I was expected to EARN the warm fuzzies by doing something good, correctly, well, etc.
I think it’s safe to say I’m no stranger to “failure”: I have two “failed” marriages and one “failed” long-term relationship to my credit, a string of “failed” startup businesses (some of which never sold a single product or service), a massive financial failure in my late 20s that left me indebted (still) to my parents after they bailed me out, etc. I’ve failed — frequently and spectacularly — in many areas of my life, and yet I don’t feel like that makes ME a failure; after all, I learned many ways NOT to do things (and indirectly validated the advice/suggestions/commandments I’d previously spurned)…
I forget who said “the only real way to fail is to not try at all,” but it’s a brilliantly sage observation — “failure” is NOT a dirty word; failure will always provide additional data that can be incorporated when proceeding w/the next attempt… now if we could only instill in our children the same determined persistence and courage to fall down and get up again and fall down again and get up AGAIN as we did when they were learning how to walk; why is learning any other skill any different?