It's not the end of the road...

missed it? Better luck next time. After all, life is not all about winning.

Failure is scary. Not because it needs to be, but because of the way we interpret it. In fact, I would like to go even a step further and say that failure provides a fantastic learning opportunity! Facing failure, learning from it, and thriving in its aftermath are amongst the most important life skills we can learn. And, help our children learn.

An over-involved, or should I say overprotective mother, once came to me. Her child was in the fourth standard and she was very concerned about how she needed to prepare her son for a national science exam. She wanted tips from me since my child had been doing well in the same exam. She wanted question papers, guide books, portions, etc.

My advice to her was that there really was nothing I could give her. I said, “Just let him have fun doing the exam. If he does well, great. If he doesn’t, what’s the big deal? Even failure is an important life lesson to learn.” In this case, I think, it was probably a lesson the mother needed to learn as well. She was horrified by my advice. She said, “Failure is not something someone that young needs to learn.” That was, obviously, the end of our conversation. However, it did set me thinking.

Dealing with children
What messages do you give your children about failure? If they fail an exam, do you tell them that they have failed as a person? That they are a failure? Or, do you tell them that though they may have failed an exam they have a lot of other strengths, and that you are going to help them turn around this “negative” experience into a “positive” learning opportunity? That you are going to help them learn from the experience? 

When you fall, do you fall forever? Or do you get up, brush off the bruises, and run again? Failure is just another fall or stumble in the marathon run of life. You need to learn, and teach your kids, to get up, brush off and be on your way again. Life is about finishing the race successfully, not necessarily always about winning it.

At this point I must say that I use the word “successfully” with some apprehension and caution. How do you define success? Do you define it in terms of how much money you have in your bank when you die, or the respect you get from your peers right now? Do you define it by the number of people in your span of control, or by the number of loving relationships you can stake your claim to? Do you define it by your job title, or by how much you have learned? Do you define it by the size of your house, and the expensive paintings on your walls, or do you define it by the love and comfort in your home?

As a student, do you define it by your academic results and medals, or by the overall development of your personality? As a parent, do you define it by the quantifiable and measurable achievements of your children, or by the strength of your bond with them?
How you define “success” has an impact on how you define “failure”, and the impact you allow failure to have on you. Are you a success, or have you been successful in a achieving a particular goal? Are you a failure, or have you failed in a particular task?

A client of mine had just sold off his business after a huge loss. He was down in the dumps and was having difficulty motivating himself to look for another job. He had failed. Why would anyone even consider giving him a job? My question to him was, “Did you fail, or did your business fail?” That poser caused a paradigm shift in his thinking. He was suddenly able to differentiate between himself and his business. He had not failed! In fact he had learnt a lot, even though his business had failed. He was immediately able to draw on his strengths (which had given him the courage to start a business), gain from his experiences, and project himself as a more confident and capable candidate. He called me after a couple of weeks of our work together to say he had found a job he was very happy with.

Many employers today prefer employees who have had entrepreneurial experience, even if their venture has not been successful, because failure can teach you many things. But, only if you allow it to.  

Suicidal youth
Why is it that so many young people commit or contemplate suicide these days? In many cases it is because they have never learnt to face failure, confront it, and learn from it. They have never learnt the importance of getting up after a fall and running again, just for the pleasure of completing a race. They have only learnt the importance of winning the race.

As a student I was extremely focussed on high academic achievements. My self-worth as an adolescent and young adult was anchored to doing well in exams. The downside of it was that I never even attempted exams I was not sure of doing well in, where I was treading into unknown territory. As a result I never even attempted any competitive entrance exams. I’d rather not do an exam than fail it! I often wonder how my life may have been different had I not had this fear of failure. I wish I knew then what I know now.

So the next time you are confronted by failure, stop and ask yourself — Is it me, or is it just another event in my life? Whether it is an unhappy relationship, a failed exam, a flopped business, a lost race, an unmet target, or a sunken investment — whatever the failure, it has to be viewed as just another event in your life, rather than your whole life.
Failure is an event, just another event. Failure is not a person, failure is not YOU.

(The writer is an MBA with training in counselling. Her consultancy,
Personal Orbit Change, works with individuals and couples. She also works with children — adolescents and teens — and their parents.
She can be contacted at 98459 46040 or at maullika@hotmail.com)

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