Failure 101 – Lesson 0: The Fallacy of Success

This is the first of our 4-post “Failure 101” series inspired by the Flying Dutchman’s challenge posed during the launch of Dads@Communities by the Dads for Life movement. Blogfathers! is not affiliated with MCYS, Dads for Life or the Dads@Communities initiative; we’re just publishing this because we thought the Flying Dutchman made a very good point and we want to see if we can follow up with a raw outline of what dads can do to teach failure. So all observations and opinions expressed within this series are very much the author’s own unless otherwise stated. And please, if you can add to this with your own thoughts and experiences, do share them with us in the comments.

During the Dads@Community launch event last weekend, Mark van Cuylenberg (the Flying Dutchman to Singapore radio listeners) posted a challenge on stage to the Dads for Life movement and the community group attendees. He said:

“One of the things that needs to be done with our children… and I think this needs to come from fathers – I don’t know how Dads for Life is going to do it, I’ve wracked my brain, I can’t figure out the system behind it – it’s a belief I have and I try to instill it on my children. You really, really cannot be successful if you don’t know how to handle failure. And I don’t think many children in Singapore know how to handle failure. And I feel – and I’m not being an MCP – but I feel that message coming from a father will be a lot more powerful than coming from a mother, because dad is the man (who is) usually seen as going out there and working, and doing this, doing that, and that message coming from dad, I think, will be very helpful. I still don’t have the system for how we’ll do it. I just keep driving it into my kids: “Failure is fine. Failure is nothing but a stepping stone to success.”

Well, Blogfathers! feels inclined to take up the Flying Dutchman’s suggestion. But he also made another good point.

How, man?

In just about any activity that we engage in, there will be an element of risking failure, and teaching failure is actually a huge subject that crosses the categories that we have in this website… but someone has to start somewhere, as we’ll try to do in this weekly series of lessons we’ll call “Failure 101”. And if Blogfathers! fails in trying (and I’m really hoping you’ll let me know where I went wrong in the comments), at least I’ll be learning something out of this.

Success is Overrated

As an Asian society, “prosperity”, “success”, and “happiness” are deeply ingrained in our celebratory well-wishes and core values. What we don’t openly talk about – if at all – are failures. We may discuss how others may have failed in hushed whispers, but our own consciousness forbids that we mention our own failure in casual conversation. There is a stigma of shame and fear that surrounds failure, to a point where it has become an established, unspoken taboo.

But why? Mistakes and failures are more effective learning experiences than a classroom lecture will ever accomplish. If anything, we should include it in our resumes right under the Achievements section, if we have achievements to show. But the truth is, we’ve all grown up in a meritocratic education system – and subsequently an economy-driven adult life – that thrives on lauding success and shaming failure.

Failure Is an Option – and a Better One

Time Magazine published a business-focused article that suggests learning from the less successful will yield greater returns in skills development. The article notes that highly successful people are not necessarily good role models, as they may have less wisdom to offer than they portray themselves to have, because “luck and risk play a dominant role in extraordinary outcomes”, and using these success stories as examples “can even lead entire industries astray”. Researchers instead advise “to learn from individuals ‘with high, but not exceptional, performance’ ? those whose success can be attributed to solid skill and not to a rare lightning strike”. And such “solid skill” comes from having to deal with the challenges faced enroute to the desired path, and finding out first-hand what doesn’t work – by failing.

The takeaway from the article for dads is that in order to teach failure, we first have to not only accept for ourselves that failure is a learning process, but place it at an importance level on par with, if not higher than, our perception of success, because failure is a rite of passage, and mistakes must be planned for and dealt with properly in order to do things right.

Next: Lesson 1 – Allow Your Child Take Risks

Image via Foluwasade’s Blog

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