At elite universities, faculty members have been noticing a problem. Many students, while impressive on paper, seem to be unable to cope with simple struggles — getting assigned to a dorm room they’re not thrilled with, scoring less than an A-minus on a midterm, or not making the cut on school teams. The lack of resilience has become so apparent that Smith College now offers an entire course on how to fail. (One uncomfortable class project: Having your worst failures projected onto a large screen in the campus hub. Ouch.)
There are all kinds of rants and reports about how coddling, participation trophies and helicopter parenting are ruining everything, or at least making kids incapable of doing hard things, but it’s tough for mums and dads to break the cycle if they were parented that way. I’ll raise my hand as someone who falls into this category. Simply saying “stop coddling” won’t help much. But welcoming failure into your home and family discussions might.
In high school, our hockey coach was a demigod. Hockey at the school was so important it nearly transcended the concept of sports. Our coach was a natural teacher and dexterously wove in life lessons into nearly every hockey lesson. And there were a lot of hockey lessons.Read more
And that starts by changing the conversation around failure. Sara Blakely, the woman who created Spanx and became a billionaire, credits some of her success to the one question her dad asked her every night: What did you fail at today?
Some parents are content asking their children, “Did you have a good day?” or “What did you learn at school?” Not at the Blakely household. The question Sara and her brother had to answer night after night was this: “What did you fail at today?”
When there was no failure to report, Blakely’s father would express disappointment. “What he did was redefine failure for my brother and me,” Blakely told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “And instead of failure being the outcome, failure became not trying. And it forced me at a young age to want to push myself so much further out of my comfort zone.”
The discussion might be uncomfortable at first — as a parent, you’ll probably have to share a lot of your own failures before your kids start opening up — but it shows that it is necessary to fail in order to grow. And you’ll get better at it. Before you know it, failure will seem like a badge of honour.