As a little girl, I was so fearful of failure that I truly did everything not to fail! I signed my Dad’s name to my reading log. I had a cheat sheet to help me during spelling tests (*yes, if you’re wondering, I did get caught in the 4th grade!). My committed Mom always put in loads of work for each big project, and to no surprise, I consistently received amazing scores. Even friends began “helping” me during midterms because test anxiety stole my breath. One may view my skeletons and judge. Another may wonder how so many people cushioned me. I confidently know that in order to fail, we must love our entire being unconditionally to stop hiding. 

As learners, we’re told FAIL! FALL HARD! Then, pick yourself up and move on. For me, I always thought something horrible would happen once I hit the ground. To be quite transparent, the untouchable space between “done for you” vs “done to you” directs one’s next move. I had no idea what failure meant beyond “bad” grades. Little did I know that “bad” grades are not a sign of failure. Instead, the grade is a discovery into thinking, learning, absorbing, and executing the taught material. Thus, secretly signing my parent’s name, cheating in school, and others completing my assignments to shame and lack of self-worth. One may say I was experiencing failure, but failure can only happen when you show up!

As an educator, I emphatically shared my desire for perfection whenever student’s became stumped or shared their fears of disappointing parents. I consciously told my story to each student and family with hopes a new arena would grow for risk taking and self-discovery. Shock and disbelief always surfaced and within seconds, a sense of solace spread across children’s faces. To this day, I remember turning around as voices whispered a familiar story. However, the ending transcended with petite humans bolstering one another to use their powerful voice and ask for help.

“You can tell her. She’ll understand. She told us she had a hard time with reading, too.”

I stood absorbing the kindness and genuine concern while wavering whether to join their conversation or wait to be invited. As an observer, I was enamored with what would come next. You see, as an educator, my soul’s purpose is to inspire, empower, and ignite curiosity. However, in that one moment, I realized my intention was to break the mold of what failure seemed to sound like, look like, and feel like. 

Failure is the act of not trying. Full stop! 

I repeat, FAILURE IS THE ACT OF NOT TRYING! 

Despite the anxiety that surfaced around grades, assignments, and tests, I knew that silencing my secret perpetuated my expanding problem, dismantling the actual act of failing. Making a massive impact on and for today’s youth and families started with me showing up and sharing my story. Standing firmly by my belief, the only way I could teach failure is by removing the cushions that prevented the untethering fall. I also know sharing my experiences as a learner created space for others to see where they intentionally stood on the sidelines. 

A parent once asked what propelled me to share my story. I paused. What was my purpose? OH, YES! Concrete evidence of failing was the only way I knew how to teach running into the arena. 

Learning challenges are never failures. 

Failure occurred when I was too scared to ask for help. Failure continued to occur when I stayed on the sidelines, observing the infinite possibilities with fear. One fact we rarely discuss is how our perceived concept of failure stimulates and perpetuates shameful, self-bullying. 

You see, I would have failed every student, in person and virtually, if I hid my reality. In fact, I would have failed every human if I kept my secrets buried. Shame can only be released when we stand in our power and own our positively powerful voice. Teaching one self-empowerment is essential and can only occur through self-awareness. Self-bullying can only stop when one receives necessary help and guidance. 

To create change, I had to start with me! 

I knew in my heart that owning my experiences created necessary space for children, adults, and all humanity to show up authentically. More critically, the only way I would lay the foundation for rich social and emotional learning in my classroom and beyond started with organically guiding children and their parents on how to fail. GASP!

We are taught to embrace failure as a win, but no where along the way does anyone stop during their failure and show us the impact of each step. Mistakes and mishaps are not failures. By society’s standards, falling down is failure. Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, J.K. Rolling, and even President Lincoln fell countless times while continuously standing up and running back into the arena. Thus, the creation of massive corporations, basketball legends, world renowned authors, and Presidents of the United States continue to rise!

Now is your choice to make a change and shift our universal perception of failure. Society does not rule you!

Pure flops, fiascos, and frustrations prove we showed up and played! Teaching children how to embrace the profound gift of failure starts with us! Let’s teach!

  • To be human is to make mistakes! Let’s be clear, a mistake is an error and never intentional.  A lesson flows from the experience in order to shift how we show up and move forward. And, if for some reason, the impact of our mistake doesn’t propel us towards a richer direction, we’ll continue to experience the lesson with the same heartache and misfortune. Still though, we haven’t failed because showing up organically expands our journey.  
  • To be human is to own when our science hat falls off Living as scientists, experimenting with infinite approaches and hypotheticals promote self-discovery, exploration, and fluid inquiries. We consistently test and retest theories until the intended recipe for change surfaces. Each time we adjust the approach, we iterate and gain critical awareness about who we are as individuals. Together, as a society, we rise for the greater good. 
  • To be human is owning when help is needed. I struggle greatly with asking for help! Ruminating thoughts take over as to where I’ll be let down or misunderstood. AND, THEN! I stop! I must ask for help in order to stop the relentless narratives. Asking for help is a superpower! Choosing to ask for help organically promotes trust, vulnerability, and courage. There’s always the chance the request will be denied, but not asking when you know the task is bigger than you is a disservice to everyone, both directly and indirectly involved. 

When wondering how to teach your children about failure, pause. Look yourself in the mirror and proudly say out loud, I SHOWED UP! I learned from my experience! No amount of fear prevented me from running into the game!

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