Fail Big!

“What did you screw up big time this past year?”

This was the standard question that my mentor used to ask – a longtime CIO who was also a great business leader.  
“And I want something big.”
If you said “nothing” he would mark you down.  Why? It means you didn’t take enough risk.  It meant you were too cautious.  It meant you were unwilling to try something new.  It meant you had learned nothing from mistakes.  
“Growth comes from achievements and overcoming the screw ups.”
Personality plays into how well certain people did in this regards.  Some of my peers couldn’t make a decision if their life depended on it – a horrible space to be in when you deal with emergencies and urgent issues.  And some viewed the world as so black and white that anytime grey showed up, they would reject the whole thing out of hand.  He was trying to get his management team to take risk so that the staff would take them too.  He wanted an environment where failure wasn’t seen as a negative, just part of the process.
This has always been my parenting approach too – much to the dismay of my in-laws.  I learned more about myself through failure – through losing – through keeping score and realizing I did not win.  It gave me something to strive for.  It taught me to figure out how to turn around a negative situation and make it into a positive.
“What are you going to do different?” was a question asked by my dad when situations would arise where I was struggling or failing.  “How can I help?”
It was never blame the officials, the teachers, the material, the situation, or any of that.  When I played softball, I never remember anyone blaming the officials for calling a bad game.  It was just part of life – as variable as the field conditions – you had to learn to adjust to them.  Have a teacher who isn’t explaining something in a way that is allowing you to understand it – you asked questions – came in before or after school and sought help – you sought help from your peers.  You didn’t blame the teacher.
The first time DJ came off the field after a bad soccer game and shrugged as she said “oh well – we lost – nothing we could have done” – I realized I was failing as parent.  Where was her drive? Where was her understanding that there is a connection between hard work, practice, trying and winning?  
She eventually put it all together as she saw things she practiced actually helping her during a game.  She started understanding that it was a game to have fun playing but it was also about strategy, hard work and attitude.  Taekwondo helped tremendously as she was 100% responsible for her success in passing belt exams, etc.  If she practiced, she did well. And she saw that.
In the classroom, we had to actually tell teachers to not accept Indigo’s work if you couldn’t read it.  She doesn’t turn in homework – talk to her about it – not me.  Accountability for that begins there – not with me as a parent.  And if she fails, she fails – give the F.  Then we will talk about cause and effect in a very direct way.  Making everyone a winner – giving more credit for the idea they thought about doing it versus the trying – those are not tools for success. Those are tools for failure, in my eyes.  
While it’s fabulous for the ego to feel success – to celebrate trying – it isn’t all positive.  We must also talk about failure and losing.  We must focus there too.  Growth happens through that adversity too.  
What are you doing in your life to screw up big?  And what did you learn?  How did it allow you to achieve?
And if you have kids, what are you doing to encourage them to screw up big?  And how are you parenting them through the lesson instead of scolding them?
Lastly –  I leave you with this interesting article.  Read it – let’s just say, I’m not alone in my thoughts on this issue. 

3 Comments

  1. She doesn’t turn in homework – talk to her about it – not me. Accountability for that begins there – not with me as a parent. And if she fails, she fails – give the F.

    GAHHHHH! I could write an entire post on this topic. We seem to have fostered a society where no one is supposed to fail, and I find school to be a place where kids should fail if they aren’t doing what they need to do.

    Unfortunately, teachers are dealing with a generation of parents who will do their kids’ homework to insure they don’t fail.

    I cringe when I consider what this teaches them.

  2. In my last two years of high school teaching, I changed my grading structure for band (which is highly subjective to begin with) so that everyone started out with a grade of C. To get an A, they had to show some sort of improvement in their abilities or participation or any number of opportunities. To go below a C, they would have to have disciplinary problems or something. It took one quarter of fighting, but once they figured out that C = average, and that it took just a bit of effort to be ‘above average’, they all fell into place pretty quickly.

  3. Aside from apathy, when people fail they usually beat themselves up. I mostly don’t criticize but ask what do you need or what can I do to make you successful.

What do you think?

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