Failure is Crucial to Success


“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” - Einstein

When my son was six months old, I took him to a Mommy and Me class,  which was really about parent training: how to observe your child,  rather than do things for him - even though Alessio could barely sit up  and certainly refused to crawl. He hated tummy time, and though all the  manuals said he should be doing this or that, he had decided not to do  any of it.

Yes, I was already worried my son would be a failure at six months  old.  My tiger mom instincts were in full swing before he could walk.

“No,” the parent-trainer said, as I leaned over and gave Alessio the  toy he couldn’t reach.  “You’re doing exactly what I’m saying not to do.  If he wants the toy, he has to crawl over and get it.”

Ten minutes went by.  My son’s immobile fussing was growing into  three-octave outrage.  The instructor sat back with a smug, blissful  smile, watching both of us squirm.

Other babies happily performed the tasks at hand, while the  successful mothers looked on.  “But he doesn’t know how to crawl,” I  said.

“This is how he will learn,” she said.  “Put objects just out of his  reach.  Make him work for it.  Teach him now about effort and reward.”

Though it made me mad at the time, she was right.

As an anxious new parent, I felt like a failure, as many of us do. We  can’t help but feel attached to our children’s successes and failures.  But what are they really?  Expectations things will go one way or  another.  If we drop the expectations and focus on the process of  discovery and exploration, things get immediately simpler and more  enjoyable.  That’s when real learning happens.  We all learn best  through play.

Experts say when you are looking at a pro of any kind, you are  observing 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice.”  That’s 10 years of  steady work.  In some fields (music, writing, arts) it can take even  more dedicated time (20-30 years) to become a master.  Though talent has  some measureable effect, it is slight compared to the power of  perseverance.

That’s why it’s so important we teach our kids how to successfully  fail - which means how to cheerfully go back to the drawing board as  many times as it takes.  It took Edison 10,000 tries before he invented a  light bulb that worked.  Yet he said of his attempts, “I have not  failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”  And he has been  lighting our world ever since.  All those “failures” were crucial to his  success. Edison had to find out what didn’t work before he could find  what did.

That kind of attitude will make any kid a winner in the game of life - even when disappointments come.

What is a parent’s role in teaching the art of perseverance?  It’s a  delicate balance:  Knowing when to praise, when to encourage your child  to try harder, and when to say, “Why not try something else?”  You have  to be attuned to your child’s signals.  Pushing too hard too fast  doesn’t work.  Praising your children for even simple tasks can result  in them being hooked on praise, and therefore more likely to play it  safe, doing easy things they already know how to do, and giving up too  soon when a difficult task comes along.  Teach them that intelligence  does not equal success.

If a child connects failure with her own intelligence, it can impact  self-esteem.  But if she understands that a failure simply has to do  with effort and strategy, then going back to the drawing board is not a  flaw, but an opportunity for discovery and triumph.

Be brave enough to let your kids see you make mistakes.  Learn from everything and keep on loving, every step of the way.


Princess Ivana