What is failure?
The words “success” and “failure” trigger positive or negative emotions that motivate us or fill us with fear. We create our own definitions of these words that control our actions, but what are they really? What should be rewarded or avoided? Are we in danger of limiting success by our fear of failure?
What happens if a student achieves less than the “pass mark” on a test? It means they have not mastered the work for some reason. As a result, we can call this “failing,” and it’s something that should be addressed. Obviously, this type of failure should not be rewarded.
What happens if somebody tries something new, and they do not get the expected or desired results? We can also call this “failing,” but it is not the same as simply not mastering the task. True, it may be that they did not get the results because they lacked mastery somewhere. However, the opportunity is there to gain that mastery and try again. Think: Learning to walk; playing an instrument. The fact that they tried brings them one step closer to success, and fresh knowledge of what needs improvement. This type of failure should be rewarded.
Failure is valuable for success.
Thomas Edison regarded his “failed” experiments with electric lights as necessary steps to success.
Imagine if he had been brought up thinking that failure was always a bad thing. Would he have been discouraged enough to give up trying?
Perhaps you know the father and son characters in the famous “Back to the Future” series of movies? They would not take the steps needed to follow their dreams (one to become an author, the other to become a musician). At different times, to different people, they said, “What if I fail? I don’t think I could take that kind of rejection.”
If everybody had this attitude, we would not be enjoying the inventions and technology we take for granted. Hence the popular sayings:
“You learn from your mistakes.”
“It’s not how often you fall that makes you fail; it’s how often you get back up.”
“Failing to try is like trying to fail.”
Examples in Sport
In 1923, Babe Ruth broke the record for most home runs in a season. That same year, he also broke the record for highest batting average.
There is a third record he broke that year that most people don’t know about. In 1923, Babe Ruth struck out more times than any other player in Major League Baseball.
Babe Ruth was not afraid to strike out. The risk of failure was overwhelmed by the opportunity for success.
Michael Jordan, possibly the world’s most famous basketball player, had this to say:
I’ve failed over and over, and that is why I succeed.
Nothing ventured: Nothing gained
You can find many examples of people who refused to give in after failed ventures. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Milton Hershey are just a few.
We have also heard mums and dads who have feared starting homeschooling. They feared the ridicule, their own lack of “qualifications”, their relationship with their children. This is what makes their success stories all the sweeter!
Many children believe they are failures, because of past performance at school. What a joy, when they discover success when trying a new way.
Parents have this new opportunity to teach their children that failure is not necessarily the end. It may be a stepping stone to success, and therefore should be rewarded.
Greg Simon BA; Dip Ed; Cert Teach
Greg taught secondary Maths, Science and ICT for over thirty years, and been a school principal before dedicating his life to working with home-educating families. He was actively involved with the homeschooling of his four children.