Creating a Culture of Failure for My Kids

OIP“Fail hard and fail fast.”

When I sit down at my desk these days, I tell myself this mantra before I begin making calls.  As a fundraiser and mission ambassador, a lot of my day-in and day-out is spent on the phone calling donors, making connections, making asks, and scheduling visits.

And I love the work. I enjoy the work. I believe in the work.

But deep inside me there is this unfounded, but embedded, fear that I’ll be rejected by the person on the other line.  Or that they won’t call back.  Or that they will, but I won’t like the answer.

“Fail hard and fail fast,” I pep-talk myself.  Because to make the ask you have to risk the fail.  You don’t do it wantonly, of course, and you don’t do it without preparation and planning.  In other words, I don’t *try* to fail.

But I have to risk it.  I pick up the phone.

Or, when I pitch an article, I always pep-talk myself before clicking the “submit” button.  “Fail hard and fail fast,” I’ll say, out loud.  I sound like a lunatic, and honestly only a lunatic would submit some of the articles I’ve submitted over the years…

I love the work. I enjoy the work. I believe in the work.

And I’d rather be a lunatic that risks life than a sane person who never lived.

And as I continue on this journey of parenthood, it’s become even more important for me to let my kids see my fear and trepidation, but then see me take the leap anyway.  They need to know that I fail, so that they know they can fail.

“We can do hard things,” is another phrase we repeat a lot in our house, especially before baseball games, roller-skating (especially that first time), and cooking experiments.  We’ll fail hard and fail fast as a rule.

“Jump,” I told my six year-old when we were at the park recently.  He was about 8 feet off the ground and, like his father, doesn’t love heights.  He nervously looked at me.

“It’s ok,” I said, “jump. You can do it.”

I didn’t offer to catch him.  And I didn’t promise him it’ll be “OK.”  Because, how would I know how it turned out?  All I knew is that he could jump safely from that height, and he’d probably learn something about himself while doing it.

He counted “1…2…3” and took a leap.

He landed, rolled, laughed, and did it again.  For a kid that doesn’t like heights, that’s no small feat.

Recently he received a book with instructions on how to draw animals.  It’s an advanced book, much more advanced than a 6 year-old can handle.  But he wanted to try it.

Circle after circle, oval after oval, he slowly drew an anteater, and an otter (which he eventually colored green), and a tarantula.

Was it great?  Hell no.

But was it good?  Well, it was for a six year-old I think.  And even if not, as cranky author and theologian Ann Lamott says, “we all have crap first-drafts” to throw out into the world.  The point wasn’t doing it well; the point was doing it.  And with some drawings, he crashed and burned. That tarantula looked more like a hairy glove with a smiley face than an arachnid.

But fail hard and fail fast.  Try it anyway.

Honestly, I don’t like doing things I’m not good at.  Part of my disfunction is needing to be, or at least appear, perfect.  But I’m working on this.  And I don’t want my boys to fall into this trap that, I think, starts early.

So we’re going to fail hard and fail fast as a family.  We’re going to build a culture of failure, of making mistakes, of doing things we suck at with all our heart.

And, hopefully that means we’re going to be really good at something, one day.

We don’t need a generation, largely like mine, who feels they have to be perfect.  Not everyone gets an A every time, Karen!

We need a generation who doesn’t believe in “perfect” anymore, but believes in good risks, fast failures, hard falls, and the resilience that comes from it all.

Fail hard and fail fast.  Crash and burn with a blaze of light that illumines the faces of everyone watching.  Melt their faces with your failure. Take the risk.

And then try again. You can do hard things.