Monday, 2 November 2015

A pox on failure!

It has become fashionable to extol the virtues of failure. Our children need to flounder; they need to experience the blood-rushing slam of disappointment! In some ways, it is a bit like trying to catch chicken pox. No one wants the inconvenience or the pimples, but it is a rite of passage. For how else can our kids build up emotional resilience? The old public school system would have filed it under 'character-building', along with draughty dormitories and short trousers in winter. I even catch myself saying to other mothers: "Failure is good for them, you know." But who am I trying to kid? 

A signpost indicating success and failure in different directions
Does failure lead to success?
©  | Dreamstime.com
As the next round of common entrance exams come around, many parents face a dilemma: whether to push their children to aim high (investing time, effort and pride) at the risk of watching them fail to secure a place at their favoured school. The poet Lemn Sissay has a saying: "Reach for the top of the tree and you may get to the first branch but reach for the stars and you'll get to the top of the tree." But what about those of us who aim high but still end up in the lower branches?



A few weeks ago I attended an address by the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Speaker's Chaplain, about overcoming obstacles in order to achieve potential. Her message, directed at an audience of secondary school girls, was simple: aspire to do your best and never take the easier option. "Go where there is no path and leave a trail," she concluded. Failure is not the end, just another step on the way to greatness.

As an apprentice writer, I have had to deal with my fair share of failure, not to mention the voice of self-doubt that gnaws at my confidence on a daily basis. I have given up counting the number of rejections from literary agents. I suspect it might be easier to win the lottery. Somehow I pick myself up, flip open my laptop and return with a heavy sigh to whatever book I happen to be working on. Over the years, my bounce-back rate has improved. Bad news on a Friday night will generally have faded into greyness by Sunday. That's the business, that's how it goes.

To some extent, such resilience also comes down to personality. I have two children. One is better than the other at dealing with setbacks. I couldn't say if the more resilient one has dealt with more failures than the other - such things are hard to catalogue. But I do know that your ability to keep on plodding past adversity is the only way to rediscover the spring in your step. 

The key thing to bear in mind is that you are bigger and better than your failures. In the rich tapestry of life, a few missed stitches count for nothing. So next time you or your child fails at something, think big picture, think character-building, but most of all think: this does not define me. Look instead to your next success. That way greatness lies. I heard it from the Reverend myself.



FURTHER READING

Emma By Jane Austen
Despite a series of blunders, Jane Austen's heroine still manages to triumph in the romantic stakes with a great deal more self-knowledge than she had at the beginning of the book.