The Critical Importance of Failure
Ugh. I hate it. It’s awful when our children fail and I hate it. I want to spare them the pain, the shame, the discouragement. I want to protect them and keep them safe. Always. Why not?
Because it’s a fallen world and they’re not perfect and they will fail. How much better to fall down when you have your parents around you to pick you up? When the failures are fixable? When it’s $50 or $100 and not thousands?
Risk-taking is an important part of manhood. Ambition, courage, and entrepreneurship all depend on being able to take a reasonable risk. It’s risky to share the gospel with someone. It’s an adventure to follow Christ, to stand alone when the world’s headed the other way. It’s taking a risk to pursue a wife. Our sons have got to be able to assess a risk and take it when appropriate if they are going to be prepared to fulfill the mission the Lord has for them.
Why are folks risk-averse? Why do 20% of 26 year old men still live with Mommy and Daddy? When you’ve been taught for years to have great self-esteem no matter what your actions or behavior, it can be quite a shock to enter the real world where you’d better produce or you’ll be fired. Fear of taking risks is really a fear of failure.
I talked to a father recently after a workshop and he told me that his parents had instilled in him such a fear of failure that he was completely unable to take a risk of any kind. He said it had cost him promotions and opportunities and even limited his usefulness to the Lord. He was purposing to really stretch himself and try to keep his sons from feeling the same way.
Wise man. Often, the fear of failure is originally not our son’s, but our own. We want to spare ourselves embarrassment. We want to spare our dear children pain. Something has gone wrong, though, in the way our culture is raising young men when men are afraid to strike out on their own at 26 or even 30. We recently read that whereas 70% of 30 year old men had a career and family in 1970 (hardly the pinnacle of American civilization), now less than a third do. Men who can’t take risks can’t really be men.
As we encourage our boys to step up to the plate and try new things, we have to be prepared to let them fail. That’s where a lot of learning takes place – on the seat of your pants on the ground! We’ve got to talk their failures through (lovingly and gently!) and help them to understand what happened. We’ve got to let them suffer some consequences! That’s what’s not happening in the schools and that’s a lot of our culture’s problem. And we’ve got to encourage them to get up and try again. Maybe not the same thing, or the same way, but they’ve got to learn the confidence that failure is not the end of the world.
And so, we encourage our boys to stretch themselves, to try to accomplish things, to strike out in a new direction, to stand alone. And sometimes we lose sleep over it. It’s worth it in the end, though. Our boys need to learn to take reasonable risks. They need to occasionally fail. They need to pick themselves up, shake it off, and try again. Some pretty big names in corporate history had spectacular failures before their famous successes: Henry Ford, Walt Disney, and Milton Hershey are just a few. If they hadn’t tried again, well… we’d have missed out on a lot!
[I’ll footnote later, the references aren’t at hand.]