By Harry Donald
Michael Jordan once said, “I have failed over and over again in my career, that is why I succeed”. He accredited his great success to the numerous failures he has overcome.
But, if failure supposedly leads to success then why is it that I was afraid to fail for the first fourteen years of my life? And, in some aspects of my life today, such as school, I still am?
Is it because of the way we are raised and educated? Once you walk through the school gates failure becomes criminalized: failure is bad and that’s the end of it.
For me, it all started early on in my schooling life. I was told things like “you’re so smart” and “you are so talented.” Looking back now, I wish people had dished out praise based on my effort instead. Not only would this have helped me to want to work harder, but I believe that it also would have motivated the kids who were failing to work harder. Instead, I thought I was naturally smart. And I imagine that the kids who were failing thought they had been born dumb. We had developed a fixed mindset: a frame of mind where you either think you’re good at something or you’re not. You can do it or you can’t.
The problem with a fixed mindset is that you believe that your potential is predetermined and you stop trying the moment you believe this. I thought I was smart and was always going to be smart, so why work hard? When you think like this it makes you give up easily. Then, I became scared of failing. If I got a bad mark I would change it, make it look better. I did this because I felt I couldn’t lose my status as “intelligent.” I was afraid to challenge myself because I couldn’t bear the idea of failing.
What I didn’t know then was that progress is built on the foundations of failure.
It’s taken me years to escape the fixed mindset and transition into a growth mindset. A growth mindset is where have thoughts like “failure is an opportunity for me to grow,” as opposed to thinking that failure is the limit of your abilities. With a growth mindset, people believe that new abilities can be developed through practice, a view that creates a love of learning shared by most great leaders, inventors, and sportsmen. For them, life becomes an exciting journey with endless opportunities to figure out new things and advance.
How do you develop a growth mindset? Dr. Carol Dweck, who coined the term, advises teachers, leaders, and parents to celebrate trying. Teachers should applaud students for any grade if they studied hard. Parents should encourage their child to develop any new skill they are interested in. Doing this will make children learn the skill of learning. Research shows that when you praise kids for the process they engage in hard work, strategies, and focus. With perseverance they learn to enjoy and engage in challenges and develop resilience. Praising talent, however, makes kids vulnerable. Encouraging hard work helps kids enjoy hard work and focus less on the stress of testing and grades. Today, companies look for employees with a growth mindset because they solve problems and persist despite obstacles.
I believe that the way kids are taught needs to change. The emphasis needs to be on work ethic and effort, rather than the pressure of results. This would help to develop a growth mindset instead of a fixed. It would teach kids to never give up. Kids would learn that effort and attitude determine abilities, not some predetermined factor. They would want to be challenged and they’d learn to embrace failure as a point of learning. A simple switch of how a person views a situation can mean a world of difference, not just in the outcome of that situation, but in the outcome of that person’s place in life.
As the poet, Samuel Beckett once said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”