Posted by: Kate | January 22, 2015

Lessons in Failure

Attended a parent math session last night, and one of the messages that stuck with me was around our concepts of failure. That for a student to repeat a course did not constitute a tragedy, just another step in the educational journey. That learning requires a brain maturity that happens when the time is right, not when the calendar or student’s age says it should.

When did we decide it was terrible for our children to fail? When did we start to shield them, as a society, from ever getting knocked down? I’m a little baffled by this, because we all know that as adults, life happens. You get knocked down. And success comes when you know how to pick yourself up, dust off and move forward. How do we expect our children to learn that if we never allow them to, for lack of a better word, fail?

The world doesn’t end at the failure. The lesson really begins with what we do with that failure. But by teaching our children to fear failure at all costs, we are creating a generation that doesn’t even want to try.

morning light2

Facing the light of a new day.


  1. Well said Kate and something important to think about. I don’t have children, nor do I work in the education profession, but I do hire 20-year-olds for summer employment and I have some opinions on how ‘that generation’ was/is being raised so I appreciate your thoughts here. We all learn more from our failures than our successes…isn’t it easier if some of that learning come at a young age — I think it makes us more resilient to the challenges of the real world? Really beautiful image here.

    • Mr Kate works with a lot of teens and 20 somethings in the grocery industry, and I think likely shares some of your opinions.
      Picture was taken on my back deck one morning this week.

  2. Sometimes the best lessons are learned through failure.

    • That is true, Andrew. Even if they are sometimes hard lessons to learn.

  3. my comment was going to be along the lines of andrew’s… some of the most poignant lessons i’ve learned have been after a failure of some sort or another.
    that said, one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek quotes is from will farrell’s movie “the ballad of ricky bobby” – “if you’re not first, you’re last!!” :)

    • Ah yes, the desire to be first!

  4. My father always told me, whatever I was doing, that he knew I’d be great. He meant well, but it made me afraid to make a mistake and disappoint him. The earlier a child can learn not to fear failure the better. I wish all parents knew what you know.

    • I have this experience as well. And yet, now as a parent, I feel that pull to want to tell your child they can be great and can do it all. The realist in me reminds me to be honest and truthful, while still respecting and cherishing. It is a fine line to walk as a parent.

  5. A wonderful essay on the importance of learning from failing. This is sometimes how we learn. From my experience, learning by doing, to me, is often more important than book learning. Not to say book learning isn’t important. We (DH & I) have done our best teaching our children this valuable lesson.

    On a personal note, I know for a fact that I learn my lessons, usually, the hard way. Especially with my knitting :)

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