The Fear of Failure

Yesterday, I posted this article to my Facebook page. Interestingly, it claims that parents have the responsibility to teach their children that failure is okay.

A child of parents who never sugar-coated anything, the notion of learning from your mistakes makes perfect sense to me. However, as an educator, I often see students who are terrified of failing. Getting an answer incorrect causes anxiety and heaven-forbid they try something where they will fail the first go-around.

Do not give up, words on blackboard

The fact is, failing is a natural part of life. As a teacher, it is my job to prepare students for the many failures they were encounter. This doesn’t mean I purposely give failing marks; rather, I try to foster resilience in students. I get them to reflect on their mistakes. What can they do better the next time? What did they learn from their failed attempts?

I was lucky – when I failed as a child, my parents saw it as a learning opportunity. They didn’t blame the teacher, coach or other students. My failure was mine alone. I had to persevere.

I think back to my days of running high school cross-country. I was not as fast as I wanted to be. I sometimes came in dead last. Instead of telling me that running wasn’t for me or blaming my failure on weather, poor biomechanics or a myriad of other factors, my dad asked me how I was going to get better. When I decided I wasn’t going to wear a watch during races (which curbed my anxiety about mile split times), he supported me. I still remember my first race without a watch. It was torture, running through the cornfields of the Midwest, dripping with sweat, feeling like I was going to place dead-last. But my father’s booming voice cheering me on and my teammates who echoed his sentiments gave me strength.

In the end, I ran a Personal Best that day. I still came in near the end of the pack, but did I fail? No. In my mind, I had reached my goal, a goal put into motion because of previous failures. I learned mental toughness, strength and resilience, which would help me later in life when faced with jobs, relationship and finances.

The fear of failure is real. Parents are afraid of failing their children and children believe that failing is not an option. Failure is unpleasant. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s in failure that we find strength.


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