Learning to Value Success and Failure
A well-respected CEO of a Fortune 500 company has a leading question she poses to prospective managers in high-level positions – “What has been one of your biggest failures?” If the applicant hasn’t had a major failure that he now recognizes as a valuable teacher, then chances are he will not be hired. Why is failure so important and what does it tell us about our character and potential to be a successful individual and leader?
During my own adolescence, it was clear to me that society valued success. I climbed each rung of the ladder until I achieved the highest role in our school’s student government and was voted one of the ‘Top Ten Teens’ of our town. I did work hard and participate in numerous community service organizations, but I also avoided difficult academic classes and challenging athletic teams. I was afraid to fail, yet I was hailed as a successful leader in our community.
Can you truly have one without the other? Isn’t failure a necessary ingredient for success?
What does failure teach us? Here are a few lessons off the top of my head…
- Life goes on after failure and few people will remember your failures as clearly as you do
- Children naturally understand and accept failure as part of the learning process…watch a child learning to walk …
- We never learn persistence and resilience if we don’t fall down and have to pick ourselves back up
- Failure can help us develop courage and humility
When my younger daughter was trying out for the varsity soccer team, I thought the coach was being unreasonable with her timed-mile requirement; my daughter was not a strong runner so I despaired that she wouldn’t make the team. She called after two failed attempts, discouraged but willing to go through the third and final attempt. It crossed my mind to call the coach and discuss the situation, but wisdom prevailed and I kept my mouth shut except for encouraging my daughter to give it her best effort.
The next phone call was euphoric, as my daughter had run the mile in the required time and joined the team. Just as important to her as making the team, was the pride she felt in herself from not giving up and persevering. Michael Jordan echoed this wisdom when he said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”
Teaching our children, and reminding ourselves, to value both failure and success as part of growth and learning is critical. In some ways, I’ve always viewed failure as life saying ‘no’ to us. We may fight it and not like it, such as a two-year-old child will do, but it helps us develop the discipline, character, and resilence for true confidence and success.
Hyde Schools Executive Director of Family Education