What sentences (about anything) have stopped you in your tracks and changed your life?
“You learn more from failure than from success; Failure builds character.”
I know that some variation of this quote has been around ever since I can remember. It is one of those quotes that stand the test of time however very few actually understand it’s true meaning.
I was one of those people that for years, did not have a clue how failure could help me actually succeed in life. Society has a way of molding us to believe that failure is a negative experience. If we fail at something we must be losers, we must not be socially acceptable, or there must be something wrong with us.
We become anxious and noticeably irritable when we fail at something we have tried. Our brains shut down and we begin to sweat. We may even lose control of our wise mind and start acting out in irrational ways due to our emotional responses to failing. We then try to hide our failures from others in fear that we will be judged or that somehow it will become the defining feature of our very essence.
These responses to failure are exactly why I never understood the above quote. If I felt so horribly after failing, how could the experience ever possibly help me succeed? Failure brought down my self-image and self-esteem. I had a closed mind and could not see any benefit from my failures.
The odd thing is, it was my children that taught me to think differently on the subject of failure. Not by intent, but by mere coincidence. You see, I am the type of mother that would encourage my children to keep trying if they could not get something right away. I would support them by making comments like, “Keep trying, you will get it.” or “I know you can do it.”
My son was a daredevil if ever there was one. He loved to climb trees, BMX bike riding, and his all-time favorite was skateboarding. The little town we lived in while he was growing up had a skate park for the kids with ramps and rails. I would take him there all the time. It killed me as a parent to watch him fall over and over again hurting himself in the process. But rather than running up and stopping him from trying, I would make sure he was not seriously hurt then tell him to keep trying and he would get it.
My daughter, on the other hand, is the type that wanted everything done for her. She refused to even tie her own shoes until she was around 10 years old. Every time I would tie her shoes for her, I would patiently use the rabbit ears trick and show her how it was done. I knew that someday when she was ready she would be able to do it on her own. I never gave up on her, got impatient with her or mad at her. I would simply show her how it was done and tell her when she was ready I had faith she could do it. Guess what, when she was ready, I never even had to show her because she knew just what to do.
These are just two examples of how my children’s failures taught me to open my mind to my own failures. How could I be so patient and understanding with my children but so hard on myself? I have always been the type to lead by example but I was not being the example in the case of failures. If I failed at something, I simply gave up. I never tried again. I was sending mixed messages to my children.
This finally dawned on me a few years back when my daughter was about 13 years old. I had asked her to take the trash out. At the time we lived in a mobile home that had a screened in porch with a door to the outside on both ends of the porch. Our trash cans were out the back door and I had a bunch of stuff on the porch because I was trying to fix something in the house or rearrange the furniture or something. I can’t even remember at this point what the reason was for the stuff on the porch. Anyway, rather than going out the front door and walking around the outside of the house, my daughter had chosen to climb the mountain of stuff to reach the back door. In the process of doing this, she knocked into a chair which fell into a window and broke it.
I had no clue what was happening. About a half hour later I noticed she never came in from taking the trash out. So I opened the door and called for her. She came in with tears streaming down and her face all swollen from crying. I asked her what was wrong as my heart sank thinking the worse. When she explained what had happened, I asked if she was okay. Once confirming that she was not injured, I burst out in laughter. I could not help myself, I literally sat there for a good 15 minutes laughing uncontrollably.
Confused, she stopped crying and stared at me as if I had gone nuts. Once I gained my composure, I explained to her that it was just a window nothing more and nothing less. It could be repaired and I was just thankful she was okay. She asked why I was laughing and I had to explain to her that at that moment it dawned on me how absurd we act as individuals when we fail or mess up. I was not laughing at her nor her reaction to breaking the window but rather, at the fact that we humans place undue stress upon ourselves over failing.
Moral: Failure is definitely a teaching moment.