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The Great Success Hoax: Why Failing is Crucial

The Great Success Hoax: Why Failing is Crucial


A few weeks ago I had dinner with a close friend. She is a happily married stay at home mom. As we ate we talked about family, work and life balance. She’s been enjoying staying at home with her 3 year old son, but had a confession to make. She leaned across the table and whispered “…I’m terrified of going back to work. I have no idea what I want to do.”


Prior to having her son she’d been in the same field for 8 years, after finishing college. And frankly, she knew she didn’t have a passion for it and couldn’t imagine returning to it after the 5+ year break she was planning to taking from Corporate America. We’ve been friends for over 25 years, so I know her pretty well. Her fear ran deeper than she was admitting. She’s had a total of 4 jobs since she was 16 years old (and is now in her late-thirties). My friend is addicted to comfort, familiarity and safety.


We talked on and eventually she admitted that her real fear is Failure. The thought of not being successfully is absolutely unimaginable for her. So much so that it dictates that she not take risks, avoid new things and generally is stuck doing the same things over and over. Most people gravitate to the things that they do well; kids who do well in school are more likely to go on to get a graduate education, if playing tennis is your gift you’re more likely to try out for the team and make it.  In many ways it is human nature to take the path of least resistance.  And we live in a society that highly values success.


However, if we do that every time we have a choice in life we are likely end up bored, unfulfilled and scared to death at the idea of failing. True learning happens not when we succeed, but when we fail. It is through learning what we did wrong, creating ideas on how to approach problems differently and showing ourselves that we can persevere through challenges that we really succeed.


My friend shared that she has always been afraid of failing and that she did not want to pass that on to her children, as she feels it was something that she learned from her own parents. She asked me how this could be achieved; how could she be sure that her kids wouldn’t live a life that was full of avoiding risk and failure?


The answer is surprisingly simple: show your kids that you’re not afraid to fail. Children learn primarily through modeling and observation. If your kids see that you are willing to take risks, lose sometimes, try again, fail a couple more times, and eventually succeed – they will intuitively understand that failure if not the end.  Losing a game, failing a test, making the wrong business decision, or being mediocre at a new hobby are not the end of the world. They are simply stepping-stones to gaining a more genuine and effective way of approaching life’s challenges.


In the words of Thomas Edison (who tried over 10,000 times before successfully producing incandescent lighting) “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. Get out there, take some risks, fail a little (or a lot), you might just surprise yourself with how much you can achieve.

1 Comment

  1. Hey Amber–

    Wonderful topic. And I have to say that my first thought when reading, “My friend is addicted to comfort, familiarity and safety” was what’s wrong with that…;).

    I think you made a great point about gravitating towards those endeavors that we do well. It reminded me of an interview I listened to with Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project where she advocated to do exactly that…if you’re not skilled at business, but love floral design, then go balls-to-the-wall with that signature arrangement you’ve dreamed about.

    I completely agree that putting ourselves out there and experiencing risk helps us grow and evolve, but finding the appropriate risk is key.

    As I tell my son whenever he’s afraid of losing face, “At the end of the day, who do people really care about?” As non-insightful as most 10 y/o kids are, he at least, gets that ;).

    Good luck to your friend :).

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