The Gift of Failure


Recently, my family and I took a summer road trip to beautiful Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada. As we drove across southern Saskatchewan we listened to many podcasts featuring professional endurance athletes and discovered a recurring theme. These professional athletes have a respect for their athletic journey. They don't solely focus on the end result (winning a race or breaking a record) because they understand failure is inevitable. As they work to accomplish the goal, they celebrate the progress and milestones along the way.  And when they experience failure, they grow from it. It doesn't define them and is not an end point. To them, failure is an opportunity. 

The theme of failure in the podcasts was timely as BIO Girls is putting the finishing touches on the 2020 curriculum and we have a lesson devoted to failure. The more research we do, the more we understand:

Kids need to the opportunity to fail.  

In our society so much emphasis is put on the end result - winning a championship, taking home the enormous trophy, making the 'A' team, getting a perfect test score. Kids are under such enormous pressure to be 'the best' at everything that failure has become the dark creature lurking in the closet. Failure is SCARY. The result is kids not willing to try something new because 'they may fail'. Or worse yet, parents are swooping in to rescue their kids from this dark creature. According to the Child Mind Institute, children who internalize the idea that failure is unacceptable are often vulnerable to anxiety, fear change, are reluctant to try new things and they lack resiliency, or the ability to bounce back from life’s disappointments, which is a crucial life skill. If you let your child fail when they’re young, the consequences likely won’t be as dire or dramatic as if they’re, say, literally failing in high school.

Failure is a gift. 

Failure is a gift that can be transformed into a learning experience that improves the ability to succeed in the future. Each of the professional athletes eluded to this in the podcasts we listened to. 

Teaching kids that failure is a point in time, not a description of themselves is important. Helping kids to track progress, rather than putting all their efforts, hopes and dreams into one 'event' is important. Sharing stories of your own failure is important. Celebrating strengths and things that went well despite the failure is important. 

BIO Girls Mentors play a huge role in encouraging participants and helping them focus on progress. Here is a survey response from a 2019 BIO Girls Mentor:

"I'm a slow runner, so I took the girls at the back of the pack. We developed a meaningful relationship walking each week - and I was proud to hold their hand as we walked across the finish line. This was a story of setting a personal goal and accomplishing it - even if it was less rigorous than the goals set by the other girls."

In our 2020 Gift of Failure lesson, BIO Girls participants will learn the difference between failure and failing, shift their focus from the end goal to celebrating progress and will have the opportunity to practice failing forward. We are helping our participants embrace failure and learn to grow from it. Giving kids the confidence to fail empowers them to step outside their comfort zones, learn to approach challenges from different perspectives and apply what they’ve learned from their failures to different situations. Now that's an important life skill!

While most of us will never be professional athletes, we can embrace failure and learn from it in the same way. Cheers to growth!

~ Missy Heilman