Donegal mum Maria Rushe explores why she believes failure should be a necessary part of growing up.
Why are we so determined to make sure our little darlings never know what it’s like to fail?
Why do we expect everyone to be a high flying “success” at everything?
When did failing at something become so terrible?
I grew up failing. I failed plenty. I’m still failing. And yet, each and every one of those failings was, and is, a learning.
Sometimes, no matter how many times I try and try and try at something, I fail. Maybe I’m not meant to do it. Maybe I’m not good enough at it. Maybe, it’s not within my skill-set.
If it’s not happening, I have two choices; I can keep going until I (maybe) do succeed. Or I can be proud that I tried but move on to another project, accepting that it’s just not going to happen
But either way, I’ve learned something. I’ve either learned the right or successful way to do something, or I’ve learned something about ME; about my abilities and my limitations. Because, it’s OK to have limitations. And shock horror, it’s OK to know what YOUR Limitations are. It actually helps.
There is a massive problem in our society and it’s not just with our children. There is and has been for many years, a mistaken perception that we should teach our children that they “can do anything”; that they “can be anything”; that they can not lose or fail at anything. That failure is not an option.
Well actually it is. And I’d go so far as to say that failure is necessary.
The fear of failure is everywhere. None of us want our children to experience rejection or failure. It’s evident at the school sports days, where we make them “race” and “compete” but then give them ALL a certificate or medal. We see it in dance classes or drama groups, where they audition but ALL get onstage anyway. We see it at football training, or where the only options are “win” or “a tie”, so that no one has to lose.
Of course, equality and inclusion are inherently important in schools and clubs. And most of these societies and organisations have individualised and tailored policies and programmes in place to include everyone. And so they should. Inclusion is not what I am talking about here.
But when in general, we are not rewarding the “winners” for fear of upsetting the person in 2nd place, or indeed 24th place, what we are creating is a generation who feel entitled.
We need to stop telling our kids that they can be “anything they want to be”. We should be encouraging our children to try and try. We should be telling them they can be what they want to be… IF they have that ability and are willing to work for it.
What is wrong with encouraging them to learn what their strengths and passions are?
What is wrong with encouraging them to try and to work to earn and to deserve the end goal, may that be a degree in medicine or a place on the football team?
What is wrong with our children knowing what they are good at and recognising what they are not so good at?
How are they supposed to work towards improving and learning if they simply think they are entitled to an ‘A’ in an exam, or to the place on the team, or to a certain job because they’ve always been told they can be anything or do anything they want to do?
We do not all have the same skills. We do not all have the same strengths. I can teach Shakespeare to a brick, but I couldn’t be a math teacher for all the tea in China, no matter HOW much I work for it. And I wouldn’t be able to be a Doctor or surgeon, because I am way too emotional for such a job (and I’m probably not that academically able!)
Does that mean I am a failure?
Every Irish dancing feis I didn’t win, was a lesson. It spurred me on. Every time I saw that a certain ‘Leah’ or ‘Clare’ was there, I knew that I most likely hadn’t a chance of anything higher than 3rd place. Did that mean I couldn’t dance? NO. It just meant that those girls were better than me. They trained harder. They had more talent. They deserved every medal and cup they won. They inspired me to push harder. Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t. It’s called life.
When I tried gymnastics, the day that I gave myself a black eye with my own knee was the day that I decided I was done. Funnily enough Mum agreed. Did I fail? No. I was just shite at gymnastics!
When I got average results in my Junior and Leaving Cert, did I feel like a failure? No. I got what I deserved and I got out what I put in. I had done my best. And as long as I did my best, that was enough for my parents and it was enough for me.
However, when I have won, or achieved or succeeded, it was celebrated. Because I bust myself and try and graft and work and any other synonym you can imagine. And if I do succeed, I am proud of it, because it is mine and I have probably failed ten times before managing it. If you burn the omelette and don’t try to make it again, how do you eat?
Every failed friendship I have, (and there are many), while heartbreaking to deal with, have all been for the best.
Every failed romance (yup many of those too!) teaches us something else important about ourselves and the person who is not right for us.
Every failed job or project or application or interview teaches us something.
For me, every time I auditioned, and was rejected, for a part in a show, broke my heart a little. Of course it did (and does). Let’s be honest, if I didn’t want the part, why would I go for it? But rather than stomp my foot and think myself too good to return, I pulled up my big girl knickers and still joined the group; may it be to a smaller role or into the chorus. Because I love it. I don’t have to be the leading lady to have fun.
And our children need to understand that they don’t have to always win to be winners. That they don’t always have to score the goals to be important to the team. That even though they are doing their best, sometimes the person beside them is just a little bit better. And sometimes, THEY will be that person and someone else will lose to them.
When we started to walk, we all fell…
And then we learned how NOT to fall. And eventually we walked, all by ourselves. (And sometimes, we still fall!) If we keep carrying our kids and our young people over every obstacle, how can we expect them to learn how NOT to fall?
Direct them, encourage them, support them. But let them feel disappointment sometimes. Let them learn to accept the success of others. And when they DO succeed, celebrate with them.
We have to sometimes fail to really appreciate succeeding. We’re not entitled to anything. We have to work and try and earn things. Life will not simply give you things because you think you deserve it. You get out what you put in.
And while we don’t want our kids to repeat our mistakes, we have to let them make their own, so that they walk by themselves.
Who knows, they might even fly.