Embracing Failure


I am going to start from the position that we all know that failure is a part of life. I am also going to assume that we all know that failure hurts!

Because it hurts, we tend to run from failure. Even worse, we try to protect our children from ever feeling that pain and step in before they have a chance to fail!

So many times in life, correct responses run completely counter to our instincts. In this case, it’s the instinct to avoid pain.

As a runner, I have had to learn to tell the difference between different kinds of pain. There are pains that mean that I have hurt myself and pushing harder will make it worse. With those pains, my instinct to back off is good. Other pains, however, are just the natural results of getting tired. My muscles will ache for a couple of days after a good, hard run or a tough strength-building workout! I can feel the discomfort as the muscle tires and lactic acid builds. Pushing through to failure means that my body will rebuild stronger than I started!

I can’t say that feeling the pain is truly fun, but I have learned to welcome it because I know what it means for me and the goals I have set.

I am now going to try to convince you that the pain of failure is just “life fatigue,” if you respond to it correctly!

I can’t begin to count the number of times in my life that I have set out with grand ideas of what I am going to accomplish only to have everything fall gloriously and completely short of what I had seen in my mind. I end almost everyday that way, to be honest! It’s a tough way to go through life, because it’s easy to begin to see myself as a failure.

Failure is not a word that can truly define who someone is. Failure is a temporary event! Failure is not an end — it’s a beginning.

From my failures, I learn the most. Let’s go back to running. I started running when I was 250 pounds. I had no clue what I was doing, so I put on a pair of cheap shoes and took off out my front door. I was slow, I was walking more than jogging, and I injured myself on a regular basis. (Actually, I still get injured a lot.) I was a failure, and I had no reason to keep trying — except that I loved how I felt when I was running, even when I was being passed by people who were out power walking!

So what did I do? I talked to people, I went to reputable websites, I practiced. When they were available, I ran with friends. I learned how to manage and avoid injuries. I learned how to buy the right shoes. I learned why runners wear synthetics. I kept trying.

Over time, I lost about 80 pounds, and my speed has increased. I finished my first marathon about six months ago, and I’ve set an outrageous goal for my next one!

This only happened because I refused to see myself as a failure and I refused to give up.

As a music teacher, I see children everyday who have been over-protected from life, and it’s sad. In my classroom, children need to take risks to be successful. I spend a lot of time referring to mistakes as “happy oopsies” (because we get to learn), convincing children that trying even when they feel uncomfortable is the best choice they could make, and using my trademark phrase “Nobody’s going to die from this.”

Some of this is just normal, but it has gotten worse over my teaching career. I am a parent, and I know how hard it is to watch children hurt because they are struggling with something. But, life is full of struggle, and our children need to know how to handle it!

Kids will follow our example. If we treat ourselves as failures because something went wrong, they will treat themselves as failures. If we stop and look at what happened to see what we can learn, they will follow our lead. We can also help them out by stepping back and asking helpful questions rather than trying to prevent or solve normal parts of life for them:

  • “What would you like to do about it now? Will that help?”
  • “What if your friend really wasn’t trying to be mean?”
  • “Do you want to know what I would do?”

Marvin Marshall uses a stoplight example and breaks down his coaching into three parts:

  1. Stop
  2. Think of your options
  3. Go with the best choice

Do we really stop and think when things go the way we planned? Generally not. That’s part of being human, too. We need experiences in our lives that make us pause, make us thing, cause us to struggle, and make us uncomfortable.

It’s how we build resilience.


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