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To Believe That Failure Is Good, Is Not How Most of Us Are Trained


It was 7:00 in the morning and my daughter was doing her math homework on the kitchen floor. She'd tried to complete it the night before, but left it until too late and got too tired. She decided to finish it in the morning.

"These two problems are supposed to have the same answer. But for this one I got 57 and for this one I got 58," she said.

"Why don't you ask Daddy to help you figure it out?" I suggested.

"No, I don't want to."

I ignored her answer.

Why don't you ask Isabella to help you. She's done this all before. She'll know how to help." I really thought that she'd want to get the right answer more than leaving the wrong answer.

"No, I don't want to. I'll just leave it," she said in her "leave me alone" voice.

I couldn't leave it alone. I wanted her to fix her mistake before she turned in the assignment.

"Why don't you just ask for help instead of being lazy and getting it wrong."

I knew how this math teacher had been in the past. She was super hard on the kids and there always seemed to be punishments—academic lunch, more homework—for wrong answers, at least from my perspective. I was trying to avoid further discomfort, complaining and anger from Sofia later on.

I was trying to appeal to her sense that getting it wrong was more of a hassle than just asking for help. I was searching for that sense of fear humans have, who are programed to be motivated into action from fear of punishment. 

"I'd rather leave it as it is. Then, because I got it wrong, Mrs. White will know that I didn't understand the problem and she'll show me how to do it."

And there it was. 

I had been uncomfortable with the idea of her getting it wrong because it felt like more of a hassle than anything else. My own fear of failure was causing me to try and poke at her fear of failure and possible future discomfort.

What a tangled web of emotional choas we weave.

Sofia was OKAY with getting it wrong because it is a natural part of the process of learning.

BAM. Everything was made clear in a nanosecond.

My belief—that getting it right was more important than anything else, and the easiest route to follow,—was confronted and exposed for what it really was—a misguided idea.

Thinking that 'just getting it right' was more important than anything else or that getting it right was the best way to avoid discomfort is a misguided idea. An idea that is incorrect.

Humans has been indoctrinated to believe that failure means something has gone wrong. We view not getting something correct as harmful, embarrassing, hurtful and we panic. It feels like things always need to be perfect in order for everything to be right with the world and for us to feel better.

I wanted Sofia to get the right answer to:

1. Avoid my own discomfort with the idea of her "failing".

2. Move away the discomfort of what I thought would be a negative encounter with the teacher.

But, Sofia was right. Leaving the wrong answer, in other words failing to get the right answer, was the best path to take. Allowing a mistake to be a learning experience and not getting all freaked out by it, IS how we're supposed to approach life.

I loved her response to the situation, to our discussion. I thought it was amazingly insightful and aware for someone who's eleven years old.

Her perspective was crystal clear. She was unbothered about leaving her work as it was so she could realize how it was supposed to be done. It was not a failure; it was the rightful path.

What if we all approached situations in our lives such as divorce, illness, financial crisis, or career change with the same kind of certainty and emotional clarity?

What is we all faced confusing answers and decisions simply as ways to get to the better choice, answer or decision for us?

Don't you think our life paths would be a lot more peaceful?

I do; I'm grateful for her amazing insight and her matter-of-fact delivery about the idea of failure not really being failure. It seemed to natural to her, so logical, that you let the mistake be a learning experience. A way to GET TO the better answer and not a reason to fear or panic.

Mistakes are not actally mistakes. Failure are not actually failure. Not in the way that we typical think of them. It's our perspective that causes an experience to be what it is.

Mistakes and failures are usually accomplanied by fear, anxiety, doubt, panic, or guilt.

But they don't have to be. 

We can learn to believe they are simply a path to something better and learn to relax, more fully, into the experience.

Next time you're faced with an experience where it feels like you're failing or that something isn't going right, remember Sofia's advice and the calm with which she presented the idea of getting the wrong answer to her math homework.

It's a matter-of-fact that our choices, all of them, lead to greater awareness, more understanding and the situation ending in our favor.

We are never taking the wrong path. We are never truly failing.