Friday, April 1, 2016

Failure is the New Success

I've been hearing  quite a bit about failure the last few years. The more that I learn about successful people, the more that I learn about failure.  I've read about Albert Einstein being expelled from school, Steven Spielberg being rejected 3 times from the USC School of Film, Meryl Streep being "too ugly" to be cast in a film as a young actress , and Thomas Edison making 1000 attempts at the lightbulb before getting it right. These stories have all surprised me and I am so impressed that these people continued on, even in the face of such negativity.

What gives these people this type of resilience? To hear "no", and keep going? And how do I develop this attribute? I feel like I am the complete opposite. When the going gets tough... I give up and grab a Diet Coke. I could give a long list of the things that I have attempted and failed at, and then walked away.   I'm not talking about realizing something just isn't for me. Like quitting softball after 5th grade because I realized that little league right field is for the kids that are afraid of the ball and prefer to pick dandelions. That was a good sport to walk away from.  But I am talking about the things that I really thought were for me. Like acting, writing, being famous, running a marathon, getting a degree, the list goes on and on. I have made attempts at all of these things, and then given up at the first sign of defeat.  How do I learn the resilience and strength to never give up? Or is it too late?

And if it is too late for me, how do I teach it to my children?

Riley and I had our first real run in with failure this week.  (*side note* I have been reading about overcoming shame, it's kind of an obsession. So in the vein of being authentic, let me say that knowing others might read this is sending me into a shame whirlwind. Sharing this is really difficult for me. But I'm taking a deep breath, and putting my fingers on the keyboard.)

To set the story up, you need to know that Riley plays the violin. She has been playing for a few years now, and is really getting good.  I'm not a musician (because playing the piano was hard, so, of course, I quit) so it is difficult trying to figure out the balance of attempting to raise one. What is too hard? What is not hard enough?  Blake's cello teacher suggested a challenge to play for 100 days in a row and getting a prize at the end. She said she has seen major improvement in her students when they do this. So we adopted the idea. JT and the kids set the rules; they need to each play 30 minutes a day (preferably 15 in the morning and 15 in the evening... music friends, is this right? I can't get their teachers to be more specific!) for 100 days in a row. This has meant bringing instruments on vacation, or staying up late some nights to squeeze it in.  I've been so impressed with their dedication.
But a few days ago we hit a pretty big bump.  Riley was arguing with me about her practice. (I needed her to practice in her bedroom so that Macie could practice her piano in the music room. P.S. "music room" is the fancy way of saying the Dining room that I turned into a ping pong room, that also happens to be the piano room. But doesn't "music room" so sound much fancier? )  Sometimes Riley can get really caught up in getting the last word, or arguing for argument's sake. (If my Dad read my blog he would be laughing out loud enjoying the justice) I was getting so frustrated with her. It was already way past her bedtime, she should have practiced in the afternoon, and now she was refusing to play her violin in her room?! After the argument continued for way too long I told her "That's it! You have lost your chance to play today. Go to bed. You just lost your 100 days!"

The punishment fit the crime. (I struggled with that one for awhile, thinking I had over reacted, but have come to the conclusion that it was appropriate.) For refusing to play in her room, she was giving up her opportunity to play at all.

Did I mention it was Day 84?

The night ended with more fighting, and both of us in tears.

Now, I am terrified. I've been talking to JT about possible solutions.

Do I really make her start all over? That sounds horrible! If she has to start back at Day 1 will she think this is all too much work and just give up? Will she be so discouraged that she won't set goals like this anymore? Will I ruin her career in music? (Ok, maybe I am exaggerating here. But honestly, I'm freaking out.)

Or do I let her make it up? Play twice as long every day? Add on another 20 days? Find some way to not completely derail her. But if I do this, am I just teaching her that I don't hold to my word? Am I teaching her that I will always cave in? That failure is too scary, so I will give her a way out?

The question is: Is it merciful and compassionate to let her make it up? Or is it just me being afraid to let my child fail? (And feel some of the blame for her failure.)

I'm scared that it is the latter. I never learned how to fail. I'm still terrified of it as an adult. I don't know how or when to let her fail. But everything I know of success teaches me that it is necessary.

I can't believe I am going to ask this...

(That shame whirlwind is kicking back in, the fear of putting this out there for other people to comment. And asking for help, even though I am not sure I want the whole world judging my parenting.)

What should I do?