In my last post, I wrote about how to balance dreams and reality for ourselves, and for our children. I said that we have to help our kids calculate odds as they get older: Risk versus reward, where best to allocate energy, which dreams are likely to come true.
But it occurred to me that our own assessment about those things might not always be accurate. It will most assuredly be shaped by our own experiences of success and failure.
I think of my own recent experience–finally selling a novel after years of trying. It occurs to me that if my daughter was older (say, 10 or 12), this could feel like a teachable moment: See, never give up on your dreams!
But is that necessarily the right lesson for her? It could mean that she sets up an extremely difficult life course for herself, goes for something high risk/high reward with no back-up plan, with the idea that “dreams eventually come true.”
In an alternate reality, one where I didn’t sell the novel and in fact gave up trying, it’s possible that I’d send a very different message: “We can waste years struggling for something that will never happen. Better to conserve our energy; better to play it safe.”
Now, I realize that children do not simply absorb our lessons, verbal and non-verbal; there are many intervening influences and variables. But parents powerfully shape how their children come to view the world. Our own failures and successes (and how we reflect on them) can be quite formative.
For me, it’s important that my daughter grows up to take some risks. But it’s critical that she be able to evaluate the level of risk, and the potential rewards. She has to also understand that embedded in every risk is the possibility of failure. Failure will not be a dirty word in our house.
Because often, failure is the prerequisite for success. I couldn’t have sold this novel if I hadn’t written those that failed to sell; the earlier novels allowed me to hone my craft.
And if I hadn’t sold this novel, if I’d chosen to give up on writing in service of other pursuits that felt more valuable, I would hope that wouldn’t be a failure, in her eyes. But where that starts is in my own eyes. It’s how I look at my own successes and failures that will shape her perceptions, not just of me but of herself and the world.
That’s why I think it’s incredibly valuable to embrace failure. It means we had the guts to take a chance. Then we can take the information we learned, and that will help us decide whether it’s worth it to try again, using the new information, or to move on, without shame.
Angry businessman image available from Shutterstock.