“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” -Winston Churchill

We live in a country that appears to have immortalized the phrase, “No failure, at all costs.” We feel bad if every child in a sports team or in a classroom doesn’t get some form of recognition at a prize-giving. It might hurt their self-esteem! My wife and I used to compete in the North American Country Music Awards each year in Sevierville/Gatlinburg. It was a weekend of competition in just about every imaginable sector of country music. In our office and bedroom there are too many trophies to keep dust-free. I stopped going to the Awards Ceremony on the Sunday afternoon because I could not stand the 6 hours of handing out trophies. It seemed like everyone got a trophy in each division. It was absurd! Somebody might be hurt if they didn’t get an award! To me, rewarding less than a person is capable of achieving leads to reinforcing mediocrity.

Failure is a necessary part of life and personal growth. I heard another quote recently, but cannot remember the author. “You haven’t succeeded if you haven’t failed.” Let me remind you of some modern and older people who had miserable failure before they succeeded.

  • Jim Carey dropped out of school at 15 to get a job as a janitor just to help support the family. At his first stand-up comic routine he was booed off the stage. Later on when he auditioned for Saturday Night Live for the 1980-81 season he failed to land a part.
  • Katy Perry dropped out of school, was signed on, but failed to sell any more than 200 records. In 2003 she was signed on to another label, but that contract was terminated as was a later one.
  • In her early days Oprah Winfrey was fired by a producer because she was ‘unfit for television’.
  • J.K. Rowling saw herself as a failure early on. She was jobless, divorced with a dependent child, suffered through bouts of depression and ended up on government-assisted welfare. In 1995, all 12 major publishers she sent her manuscript to rejected it.
  • Bill Gates suffered failure in business as did Henry Ford, Abraham Lincoln, Colonel Sanders, Thomas Edison, and Walt Disney. There are too many others to list.
  • Do we want our kids to fail? Of course not! We want to protect them from the pain of failure. However, when we look at so many successful people who have persevered, bounced back and landed up on the ‘most famous people’s list’, it causes me to think seriously about the ‘No Failure’ goal we have set. Failure is part of life. People fail at College. They get fired. They get divorced. They go bankrupt. Children turn on their parents. Businesses fail. Not every athlete wins a position on the podium. Candidates fail to get elected. Not everybody gets in a team. Not every team wins a game. And so on.

So let’s teach our kids what failure means and give them the skills to cope if and when they do fail. Let’s teach our kids about perseverance. If our kids do fail, use this occasion as a tool to help them do better next time. One thing I’ve noticed in our society is the tendency to award hero status to the winners and to believe that everyone else is a loser. This is not true. People are winners for just participating and giving their best.

Written by Brian Burgess, School Counselor, PPE, Nashville