be kind allow failure

Be Kind. Allow Failure.

Embracing failure is a hot topic.  We love the stories of those wildly successful people who overcame adversity, blunders, and rejection – like J.K. Rowling’s famous story of poverty and an astounding number of refusals from publishing houses.  They make it seem so doable; that dreams are achievable.  But I’d like to take the spotlight off the winners and think about the people on the sidelines.  Those loved ones who supported them through the turbulent years.  It’s hard to watch someone lose.  Are you kind enough to allow failure?

Fighting My Own Fear

Dealing with the pain of failure isn’t the only hurdle.  First, you have to be strong enough to put yourself in the position to fail.  Fear of failure is something I’ve struggled with throughout life.  Competitive by nature, I’ve been gunning for number one as long as I can remember.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with competition.  It can bring excitement to the dullest of activities and serve as an effective motivator.  But it starts to go wrong when the prospect of not being the best hinders your engagement.

Life experience has demonstrated to me how the need for control and perfection and a fear of failure go hand in hand.  It’s also shown me how limiting it can be – keeping me from living a bigger life.  I wrote about it just last week in my blog post, Scruffy Hospitality – Connection Over Perfection.  The fear of not having everything ‘just right’ for guests was preventing me from fostering friendship and community in my home.

I think it must be the self-confidence that builds through the years, but at the least, I am more aware when fear is holding me back.  But that’s my own failures.  What about watching my children take risks? Would I be strong enough to support my partner if he decided to change his career?  Could I provide positive words for my sibling if she wanted to move to a different part of the country, far away from family and friends?

Failure Comes in Many Forms

When I started to consider this topic, my thoughts went straight to my children.  It’s obvious that the parent-child dynamic is greatly affected by levels of tolerance for failure.  Not only do they learn from our example (I hope mine recover), but it also shapes daily life.  It affects a range of decisions that involve risk and could lead to negative consequences.  Do I get him up even though he’s slept through his alarm?  Do I let her choose the college she wants even though I think the alternative is a better fit?

But what about the others in our lives?  Our partners, colleagues, friends, relatives?  Our ability to embrace failure greatly affects their lives as well.  Showing support and giving encouragement, even when it makes our own lives more difficult, can significantly impact that person’s opportunity for growth.    

“If my wife had suggested to me even with love and kindness and gentleness … That the time had come to put my dreams away and support my family, I would have done that with no complaint.”

Stephen King

Letting Them Fail – An Act of Kindness

Standing by others through the hard times is not easy.  It can take a toll on us and our relationship.  Our support of their choices often translates into more work and responsibility for us.  And it’s hard to see others suffer or feel loss.  In these ways, letting them fail is an act of kindness.

But what about the darker reasons why we don’t want to allow failure?  When I’m being completely honest with myself, the roots of my hesitations are often my own selfish fears.  I don’t want their losses, their failures, to reflect poorly on me as a parent, a daughter, a wife, a friend.  Confronting the reality of why we don’t want them to risk failure is challenging but necessary.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

– Robert F. Kennedy

Taking Risks and Surviving Failure

Risk and reward are rarely found independent of one another.  And failure is tricky.  How do we know when we should intervene?  When is it too risky? What if I do speak out and they don’t listen?  I am not an expert, and this blog is no more than my personal insights based on life experience with some limited research.  But here are a few things that I think are important to keep in mind.

1. Help others build courage and a sense of self-worth to battle the fear of failure.

Before someone can fail, they have to be willing to take a chance. And in order to take risks, people have to believe in themselves. Consistent support and encouragement will help them understand that failure is simply part of growth.

2. Foster trust in your relationship.

Are you supporting the risky choices for the right reasons?  Would you benefit if that person failed?  They need to know that you’re encouraging risk for the right reasons – for their own good – not for self-serving reasons.

3. Try to provide an objective viewpoint to assist their decision making.

It’s happened to all of us.  You get so involved in an issue; you can’t make a rational decision.  Although none of us are infallible to personal bias, you can make an honest effort to provide an objective viewpoint.

4. If they do fail, be there to support them.

Be ready to support them when they fail – have their back.  They will need your encouragement and support without “I told you so’s.”  I would like to emphasize – when I say, “support them,” I do not mean blindly “saving” them every time they fail. We only learn from failure if we feel the impact of mistakes.  But, the kindness of words of encouragement and love never hinder.

As Confucius famously said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” Taking risks, failing, picking yourself back up again. These are all hard things to do. But they are also integral to a life of growth and flourishing. Be kind and allow the people in your life to fail in the best possible way.

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