Failure = Winning - A Parenting Ramble

Unpopular opinion ahead.
When we fail, we also win.

No, not in the sense of having accomplished our goals. However, in the bigger picture of ‘all the things’ we have hopefully discovered something new about our task, ourselves, and/or others in the process. These are valuable insights.

In our current culture, there’s such a premium on instant gratification, instant success, that we have lost sight of what failure can bring us.

Instead of learning to accept losses, we learn to complain and argue and manipulate to get our way.

Instead of learning to work harder, we learn to take shortcuts, do a halfway job, or blame others.

Instead of growing as a person, in our chosen field, or in our craft, we simply get stagnant, and give up at the slightest sign of counterproductivitiy.

Failure is a powerful tool, and one we should not fear. Think of the myriad of successes in our history that came out of failure: The lightbulb, Dramamine, Harry Potter…to name a few.

On that same line of thought - What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger…

Consider the tomato plant. You can start a seed easily enough. But if the seed doesn’t get some kind of weather as a start, it will be weaker than the other seedlings. A lot of veteran gardeners will tell you to do three things that seem completely contradictory to their success:

  1. Place a fan next to your seedlings - this gives them a constant interference they must build strength against. It toughens the plant so it can thrive.

  2. Bury the plant deep, in a trench. - wait, BURY my hard work? Yes. The burying of the plant creates stronger root formation, allowing your toms to have a great foundation to rest on when it comes time to harvest.

  3. Pinch off your blooms. -Huh? Why would I remove the very thing I want to grow? Well because by limiting the number of blooms, you can encourage the plant to pour the most resources into the fewest tomatoes, creating stronger, more flavorful, and larger fruits.

Having considered all these things in the light of ‘parenting teens’ I’ve come to the very unsettling conclusion that although we may not be providing our kids with a very affluent lifestyle, we have made their lives very comfortable. Perhaps, as they grow towards the realities of adulthood, we should be seeking ways for them to fail and face more conflict, for the sake of growth, strong roots, and bigger successes later on.

What do you think? Did / does failure ‘make you’ or ‘break you’?

Sure. And if you hit any friction, there are a few dozen companies chomping at the bit to “sell you a way past it.” Or to modify the experience such that you don’t have to actually figure out the solution. Of course, the flip side happens too, when that ruins that which made the problem space interesting in the first place. I used to play a lot of Angry Birds, and the addition of “powerup birds” to make levels “easier” if you pay just ruined the game for me, entirely. You used to know the level was beatable with the birds provided. Once they ruined it with in-app purchases, no longer was that guaranteed.

Given the world they’re likely going to be dealing with, finding ways to build resilience in, but also anti-fragility (stress makes things stronger, like your tomato plant example). I’m just not quite sure how to deal with this.

I certainly dealt with some interesting financial situations for a while, and that was the era when I was driving $100 cars saved from the junkyard, and answered the (reasonable enough) observation, “You work on cars a lot, you must like working on them!” with “No, I actually don’t, I just can’t afford a shop and I hate walking long distances a lot more than working on cars.”

One thing I’ve heard certain cultures do is let teenage kids “run the household finances” in some meaningful sense for a while, in terms of shopping and such. I’ve been planning something like that, with a range of “impossible constraints” on it to see what solutions pop up. It seems a useful set of skills.

But, yes, I think learning to deal with failure is important, and I certainly don’t know how to build that into kids who, say, “won’t try anything they aren’t already convinced they can do.”