The late and great country singer Johnny Cash is quoted as saying “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”
Following Cash’s advice can reveal that for most of us, failure is just the beginning on the road to success.
We have all watched our children learn to ride a bicycle. After many repeated attempts and often scraped knees, they can finally stay upright and ride on their own, and they soon forget their many painful failures. Our job through all of this has been to give them a helping hand in support and encourage them to get up on the bike again even as they are crying that they just want to go home. The most important lesson that they learn when they finally break through is that failure is just another part of learning.
As our children go through school, they may often face similar situations with a particular class or subject. Sometimes we can see them stall as they get frustrated with a concept or idea that they just don’t understand. A gentle nudge from a parent or teacher can often be enough to break the stalemate and allow them to move forward. But sometimes they get stuck because they have a fear of failure.
That is a particularly dangerous situation for any child because it may mean that he or she will fail to take advantage of an opportunity. If the fear is allowed to remain, the child may get stuck for a long time. There are countless stories of people who managed to overcome this fear of failure to go on to great success. But there are millions of other children who become so afraid of failure that they don’t even finish school, or they find themselves in dead-end jobs because they were just too afraid of failing to even try.
Our job as parents and educators is to help our children overcome this fear of failure and to let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s never okay to stop trying. It’s our job, too, to remind them that we can also learn from success as well as failure. Norman Vincent Peale once said “We’ve all heard that we have to learn from our mistakes, but I think it’s more important to learn from successes. If you learn only from your mistakes, you are inclined to learn only errors.”
Every success, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, should be acknowledged and celebrated. Success really does breed more success, and any child who receives positive reinforcement for a project completed or a job well done will learn that lesson early in life.
With this perspective, children have two ways to learn, not just from their painful mistakes, but also from their progressive successes.