Learning from Failure

Photo: Stress Free Spaces 
Yesterday my (almost 16 year old) daughter came up to me in the kitchen as I was making dinner, and said "Mom-you were right. AGAIN!"

Perplexed, I asked her what she meant.

She was referring to a (somewhat emotional) conversation we had last week about taking the things other people say and do personally. She told me that after thinking about it, she realized that she was doing that in a particular situation, and would make more of an effort to stop.

I told her I was proud of her for her self-reflection and for being willing to learn from her mistake.

She asked me how I became "so smart". I laughed.

My response to her was that I am so smart, because of all the times I've been so stupid.

I don't have mystical powers, and I am not especially brilliant, but I have made many, many mistakes in my life. I have failed at more things than I care to talk about. I have quit jobs, projects and people in anger and frustration way too many times to even count. But, the one thing that makes me get back up again and continue on, is that I have always been willing to self-reflect, evaluate and look at the situation as feedback, because that is all mistakes and failure really are-feedback. All I can do, or any of us can do, is look at our results, and we did not get the result we wanted, evaluate why and try to do better next time.

Too many times we are afraid of failure, afraid of mistakes, and afraid of looking foolish or dumb, and refuse to look at what we could be doing better. We try so hard to protect our kids from failing and from making mistakes - to the point where we give out trophies and rewards not for exceptional effort, but for just showing up. We do them (and ourselves) a great dis-service by doing this. We are taking away their opportunity to get that sometimes awful, painful, feedback, and really learn something, about life and about themselves, and be exceptional rather than "average".

I tell my daughter all the time: "Once is a mistake, twice is a reminder but the third time its a choice." My hope is that she continues to not take the things people say or do personally and that she is always willing to look at her mistakes as feedback, and embrace those opportunities for improvement. I hope that because I am willing to let her fail sometimes, she will us that feedback to be better prepared to make better choices for herself and her future.

Then, she will be is as "smart" as me.

“Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error.”

― William Faulkner (born September 25, 1897)

Further Reading:

The Science of Failure: Why Highly Successful People Crave Mistakes

Accepting Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up

Failure is Good (When you learn From Mistakes)

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