The Gift of Failure

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By Melissa Ford

Coach - Personal & Business

When my kids were growing up, I role modeled an upbeat, "I-can-do-anything" attitude, hoping to raise children with high self-esteem. But like most kids, they grappled with feelings of embarrassment, inadequacy, and stupidity from a botched spelling bee, poor grades, broken friendships and their sport teams' losses. I cooed comforting words while offering kind smiles and tender hugs to help them move beyond their failures and hurts. Today, I still serve up a lot of love, but instead of believing failure is bad; I know differently:

Failure is a gift.

World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, has amassed decades of research on achievement and success. Dweck explains that when people shift their perspective from fearing failure to embracing it, they begin to flourish. 

Sounds intriguing, but how do you turn failure into a gift? 

Whether failure is a gift or a curse depends upon the question you ask yourself when you fail (when you don't get the desired result). Which question do you consider?  

(1) What does it mean about me (that's bad or wrong) because I didn't achieve the results I intended? or . . . 
(2) What am I learning that I didn't know before?  

Are you a learner or a failure? 

If you pose the first question then failure defines you. You're stupid, incompetent and incapable. With a loser mentality, you'll avoid challenges and the wisdom they bring. If you raise the second question, you'll focus on your successes, those things you've learned: skills, knowledge, strengths and abilities. Emphasizing your new discoveries, you'll feel energized and inspired, taking more action to realize your goals.   

Trading in my "failure-is-bad" mindset for a self-affirming approach to goal achievement, I've created a more exciting life filled with greater opportunities AND my parenting has undertaken a profound change. Instead of feeling bad and concerned when my kids fail, I rev-up my excitment and curiosity, moving my focus from "What went wrong?" to "What did you learn?"   

Creating your "learning" list. 

Last March, my daughter decided to get a jump on summer employment, applying online for a retail position at a major department store. After a series of phone conversations, a flurry of emails, a successful face-to-face interview followed by more emails - she didn't get the job. She and I were incredulous! Then, we were excited because she knows about the choice between defining yourself with failure or learning from your experiences.  

She created her "learning" list: (1) She had heard the job market was competitive but now, she had first-hand knowledge; it was fierce. (2) She was proud of her determination, positive outlook, competency and follow through. (3) She sought feedback about her interview, identifying areas to improve. Glowing with pride over her new discoveries, and with renewed focus and energy, she pursued more job opportunities, finally landing a coveted internship and a part-time weekend job. 

I watched in amazement as she shifted from inability to capability, failure to success. The slightest shift can make the biggest difference in how you view your challenges.

Do the same for yourself and your child; start today by giving the gift of failure! 


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