Don't be afraid of failure

By Jason Thomson on April 15, 2013


After two challenging years, during which our daughter sank from Cs to Rs on the report card, we’ve abandoned the idea of French immersion.

A few days from now, The Bloodhound will leave her current school and join a new one. The hope is that, in time, the reading, writing and math will catch up to curriculum levels. I’m of the opinion that the real heavy lifting will come in the emotional intelligence arena with attention to effort, focus and the lot, but let’s save that for another blog entry.

We’ve done a lot of work to get to this point. There’s been extra effort after school. We’ve involved technology. We’ve gone for learning disability testing. We’ve talked at length with teachers.

Each time we pass through one of these thresholds, the group of us who parent The Bloodhound experience similar emotions. There’s confusion at why the last thing didn’t work. There’s wonder whether we're doing the right thing or the moms are doing the right things. There’s a sense of panic because she’s falling behind. And ultimately, there’s this – we feel like we’ve failed. Looking around at other parents, blogs and books on the market (I’m looking at you Tiger Moms), failure is a bad thing.

But why?

Why are we so afraid to fail? I’ve wondered this one out loud a few times of late. My best guess is that the concept of “failure” has become a badge of dishonour in our world and when our kids fail, we believe that we fail. When we fail, we brand ourselves as bad parents. I could write for days on the topic that we take on our children’s challenges as our own, but that ground gets covered by a lot of writers. Instead, I want to talk about that concept of failure.

I’ve long been a believer that failure is just about the most important teaching tool we have. When we fail, we learn. When we learn, we become better. This isn’t revolutionary (or even interesting) thinking, but it’s something we seem to have forgotten.

As parents, our world has become this never-ending chase for fake perfection. We push our kids to walk at ten months. We find ways for them to read with fluency by the time they’re four or five. We panic when there is a litany of Cs on the report card. Why we need our kids to achieve these things and achieve them earlier than ever before is baffling to me.

It’s as if there can be no failure. We need to have perfectly mannered, well-adjusted, super smart kids from the get go. Why? Why should The Bloodhound’s switch from one system where she’s failing be seen as anything but a triumph? We may have found a better fit for her, one that will nourish her intellectually and remove unnecessary stress from her day. In this “failure”, we may have done something right.

I feel like I’m lucky. I stumbled into a lifetime of acceptable failure. I’m a creative professional who runs his own business. Because I create things, I get knocked around by colleagues and clients alike – and as a result, it’s given me a thicker skin, it’s forced me to rethink when I thought I had the right answer, and ultimately, it’s made me a better person. During the process with The Bloodhound, it’s also made me understand what acceptable failure looks like for me and for my kids. I feel like I'm starting to understand the difference between a failure that will mark the child for life and one that will teach her how to grow.

I’ve got as many as six kids under my roof at any given time. I’m looking forward to a lifetime of failure, and because of it, success.

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