Saturday, July 1, 2017

                                                    TEACHING FAILURE

     If you’re up on the news, you know that there is a new trend in parenting:  teaching your child how to fail. Well, that’s how they get you to read it: put a title out there that makes no sense. But it does. As a teacher, I probably would have titled it, “Teaching Resilience,” but that’s boring, so I get the psychology of the startling headline.

     People frequently say to me, “How do you do that? You’re always putting yourself out there. I could never do that.” Yes, I do “put myself out there,” and, yes, it is stressful and nerve wracking, but every time I do, my confidence rises, and I want to do it again. I am very sensitive, even what some might call hyper-sensitive. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want people to laugh at me. I don’t want to be publicly humiliated. Every time we put ourselves out there, these are genuine risks, and sometimes we fall on our faces. Many are afraid to take the chance. I’m not. Why? How did I get this way? Lord knows, I have failed many times. I have wrinkles to show for them. But the courage it takes to get back up off the dusty arena floor and “dare greatly” offers such a high that I can’t stop. 

     The parents who coddle their kids and never let them fight their own battles or take chances are really crippling them. There shouldn’t have to be college courses in resilience, and people shouldn’t have to write books about how to teach your kids to fail. We have all failed, and we have all survived, albeit with some scars. We heal. We stand up, and we move on. 

     I have watched parents make lunches for their teen-agers, wash sand from their 15-year-old toes, tell them how brilliant they are when they’re not and label them so they’re afraid to try anything. Most teens don’t hear much, as their ears are blocked by tiny ear bud headphones. They are in their own little worlds where they can knock out the bad guys on the video games with no threat to their own well-being. How will they ever learn to risk, to stand alone, to grow if they never feel vulnerable? I get it. It’s a crazy world. We all feel more vulnerable than ever. Vulnerable also means “connection.” We can’t connect with people if we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and being vulnerable means we can get hurt. If we’re afraid of getting hurt because we think we can’t recover, then how can we ever succeed in anything? 

     I was thinking back to my upbringing asking myself how I learned resilience? I don’t remember my parents saying anything profound like “You must fail in order to succeed.” I do recall my father saying, “Don’t run for class secretary. Run for class president.” In those days, it was unheard of for a girl to be class president. Well, I lost by 26 votes out of over 600. Yes, I was devastated, but I was proud of the votes I got, and it buoyed my spirits to know that my hard work had paid off. When I didn’t make the cheer team my freshman year, I tried unsuccessfully the following two years. My senior year, I made the freshman squad, and I basically told them to shove it. I wouldn’t have kept trying if my parents had not somehow encouraged me. I don’t remember their words, but I remember the message, “Don’t give up.”

     Yes, failure is good. It doesn’t feel good. It feels downright awful. I know it well. I also know the thrill of success, however, and it didn’t come from cowering behind some label, some notion that I couldn’t do it, or from watching others succeed and saying to myself, “I could never do that.” Just do it. Just do it, and when you fail, because you will, swear, cry, throw a fit, have a beer, do whatever, and then just go try again. And bottom line, don’t ever criticize someone who has failed until you’ve tried it yourself. That’s my message to kids and my advice to parents.