Part I – Failure
I’ve been contemplating the “kids always win” philosophy, and I’ve decided I’m not a fan. This idea isn’t new; both little league teams get a trophy, moms and dads intentionally lose the Monopoly game so Junior doesn’t suffer . . . I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept.
However, letting children win too often gives them a false sense of confidence. I don’t mean to imply that doing this once in a while will ruin them for adulthood . . . but in general, games are a fun, low-pressure way for young ones to learn the rewards of working for something and the necessity of further training when skills require improvement. Adults (parents and teachers especially) have a responsibility to create a safe space for children to learn their strengths and weaknesses . . . and to fail. Creating that space, and talking to kids honestly about failure, will not crush them. It will equip them for life’s inevitable “I didn’t plan for this” moments.
“But wait! Children need to believe they are special!” This seems to be a common belief, and to an extent it’s true, but (a) most of us are not terminally unique; and (b) psychology teaches us that developing kids need to have a sense of safety, and a sense that the world is predictable. If we teach children that failure happens, they are able to predict it rather than be utterly shocked by it; if we teach them that it’s possible to work through failure, we are teaching them that failure doesn’t have to be a devastating, safety-compromising loss.
Another reason it’s okay for kids to not be the best (or the winner, if you will) at everything is because they need to know that their minds and souls are not mediocre just because they don’t possess a particular skill or personality trait. And if kids come to terms with the truth that different people excel in different areas, then they’re empowered to ask, “How can I collaborate and accomplish goals with people who have different strengths than I?” I believe this is superior to a “how can I surpass so-and-so?” mentality.
Ultimately, most kids will deal with losses of one type or another at some point in their lives (illness, financial strain, being passed up for a promotion). Learning to lose in childhood can’t possibly prepare a person for every hardship he or she faces – but it can help. We can simultaneously teach kids to strive for success, demonstrate how to fail with grace, and practice surrendering to Jesus in frustrating, confusing, and broken circumstances. Milly Smith said it well when she wrote, “It’s not my job to carpet the world for [my son]. It’s my job to put slippers on his feet instead.”
Part II – Fear (and confession)
I’ve experienced fear of failure. In order to avoid looking foolish, I’ve lied about not knowing the answer. Conversely, I’ve become defensive when I have known the answer but someone else beats me to the punch.
I also realized yesterday that I’ve been afraid of writing. I hesitate to share my writing; when I do get the courage, I usually preface my narrative with self-deprecating comments like “this isn’t very well written” or “I’m not sure if you’ll like this, but….”
In light of my stance on learning to fail, I’ve decided that this fear-and-insecurity business is a problem. I am a skilled writer, but I don’t have to write perfectly to problem-solve or connect with others. Most people can’t relate to perfection, anyway – and even if they could, I’m just not capable of anything like close to perfect. In a world where my thoughts fly faster than my fingers, I’m bound to make a typo. In a world where I can’t separate emotion from my message, I won’t always write clearly. In a world where distractions abound, I will follow rabbit trails. But since starting this blog last week, I’ve experienced such a sense of freedom – not just from doing what I enjoy, but from being honest and raw while doing it. I’m not just expressing myself with a God-given gift; I’m becoming who God created me to be. Even more beautiful is that I know He is capable of bridling my mind and refining my words for His glory.
I’m publishing thoughts that make me feel vulnerable and exposed. I may one day look back and think, “Boy, was I wrong about that!” And I’m definitely opening myself up to judgement in a whole new way. But if I’m to grow and run forward, I must accept that stumbling, skinned knees, and shin splints are part of the process. I must accept that some runners will keep pace with me and encourage me; others will pass me; still others will try to trip me. (I will in all likelihood trip over my own feet!) In short, failure and frustration will occur.
Thankfully, I’m totally okay with that now. Fears aside, I’m going to write.
“Success is not the absence of failure.” – Unknown
“The righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.” – Proverbs 24:16 (ESV)