This week we’re talking about failure. Any writer will tell you that this career is filled with it. We all have hundreds of rejections- from publications that don’t want our short stories, from agents who don’t want to represent us, from editors who don’t want to buy our books, from readers who didn’t like our book. Each one feels like a sharp stick to the gut. That flash of adrenaline that heats up your arms and to your cheeks, that melting feeling that radiates from the center outward. (Isn’t it interesting that the sensations accompanying failure and success are indistinguishable?)
This morning I was talking with my youngest son, who was very frustrated with a video game he’s currently obsessed with. He was upset that he would never be good, never win, never have that thrilling feeling of accomplishment that he so deeply craved. He wanted to win. And he kept losing. Again, and again, and again.
I told him that you have to fail a lot before you can succeed. That if you aren’t afraid to fail, success is literally guaranteed. The only thing you have to do is keep going.
As a teacher, I work really hard to help kids figure this out. What better place than elementary school to learn how to fail? At the beginning of the school year, I send home an article called Failing Wisely, written for an education publication by a former principal. In it, he talks about the importance of teaching kids how to struggle. To sit inside that space of failure and embrace it. Wrestle with it. Own it. He says, “To be properly prepared for life’s setbacks, students need to encounter their first academic and emotional bumps and bruises during their school years. School leaders have an obligation both to challenge students so that success is not always at hand and to teach students how to handle difficulties and setbacks. We must take the time to talk about frustration and failure, to help students learn from their mistakes, and to encourage them to try, try, and try again.”
I told my son this morning that it never feels good…to lose the game, to be rejected, to have a dream and then have it not happen the way you want it to. I spent four years failing at writing. I could have quit after one. Or two. Or even three. But I kept going. Often, I assumed failure would be mine. I knew the answer would probably be no. I made my peace with it. I accepted it. And that allowed me to keep going.
That’s what I want for my own kids and students. To learn that failure doesn’t define you. Quitting does.
The Ones We Choose is available at bookstores now!