Success or Failure? Is it how we play the game, or is there a deeper lesson?

By Jason Newman LMFT #100091

When school bells start ringing, parents’ anxieties rise. Parents find themselves asking, “Will my child be successful or will they fail? Will my child win or lose?” Some say, “It’s just how you play the game.” I propose a different approach.

We live in a society bombarded with harsh images of success and failure. Either we WIN or LOSE. I suggest: What if we are never winning or losing, succeeding or failing? What if, instead, we look at life from a different perspective?

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~Thomas A. Edison

When someone “wins” or “succeeds” – what has changed about that person? For starters, they have discovered one of many ways to feel good about themselves. When something is important to them, people need to feel that they can plan, try, and succeed.

But what happens when someone “fails” or “loses?” Especially when they fail using what they thought was a successful formula? Many children, teens, and parents alike begin to lose confidence. We begin to think, “Well, if what worked before didn’t work this time, I must be the problem.” With repeated disappointment, poor choices, or sometimes just bad luck, this way of thinking can become a pervasive and accepted pattern.

Let’s look at this from a different perspective. If I fail a test, what does that mean? Well, F is for failure, but the most important lesson is that I learned which questions I answered incorrectly. If I look at what was marked “wrong” and find the desired or “correct” answer, then what have I done? I have just learned from my mistake.

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end.” ~ Denis Waitley

I suggest that when children do not win, pass, or need to try again; they gain more knowledge on how to do it correctly. When we shift our focus from “success” and “failure” and begin to look at life as one big learning experiment, we take away the self-doubt and self-hatred that come from not always getting things right the first time.

When I was a teenager, I had a friend who was fired from a job for being late. He was so down on himself. He believed he had personally failed not only himself, but his family and the company too. Most of all, he felt that he looked like a fool. When I helped him change his perspective, he realized that he only needed to change a few specific behaviors. For example, in his previous job, he had a very long and congested commute. So rather than risk being late, he decided that going forward he would pick a job that was closer to his home, leave by a set time, and ask for non-rush-hour shifts. His change in outlook has lasted. Not just for him, but for me as well. I personally learned that I must plan in advance. I always pack my bag before I go to bed, fill up on gasoline before I leave, and plan for traffic delays on the way. While preparing to write this article, I realized that if my friend and I had never changed perspective in response to his mistake, we might never have made changes. Instead, we would have said, “The world is unfair” or “I am just a failure.”

Those blaming or shaming thoughts are easy distractions from the real opportunity that mistakes present which is the opportunity to learn. Evaluating what we can do differently is hard, because it forces us take responsibility. When we take responsibility for unsuccessful attempts, we begin to plan.

When your child says, “I failed my test. I’m stupid.” You can respond back with, “Let’s look at how to do the incorrect answers differently” or “Let’s find a different way to study.” When you change your perspective, you are modeling proactive thinking and behavior for your child. As a parent, if you deny responsibility, your kids will follow. If, as a parent, you look beyond the immediate result of one’s efforts, you begin to recognize more and more teachable moments and opportunities to learn.

Every test in life is a moment to learn and teach. As an adult, remember that young people are watching you. They see your reactions and if you handle yourself with self-awareness. They see how strong your perspective can be. We are all teachers and students every hour of every day. You learn how to get results even if you don’t achieve them every time. And, you are teaching others how to find their own answers.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” ~Robert F. Kennedy

Fail! Lose! Do it proudly! And then show others what you have learned. Because when you share how you changed your approach, you teach others that they can change too.