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?


  1. I would let her make it up. Once in a 100 days, it seems fair to me. But that's just me. I think it's merciful and compassionate to let her make up one day. Not you being afraid of failure. At the same time, some contests or group goal type things like this don't make room for a day where you're terribly sick or a day your funk leads to not picking up that violin. 100 days in a row means 100 days in a row. I don't like contests like that personally (or like perfect attendance to a class or seminary- who doesn't get sick sometimes? Stay home!). So I'd let a kid make up one day! I bet kids who've participated in it before have had to make up 1 day here or there and they still count it. But some people wouldn't let themselves make it up if they failed one day. They'd say they failed and either try again or don't try again. Which I can see in your post has its merits to be ok with failing but also isn't that a little perfectionistic in this context? Am I making sense?

    Also, be sure you tell her how amazing 85 days in row is for 30 minutes! That's unbelievable!!!!! I'm in awe!

    1. This exactly what I needed to hear. (I should have just called you in the first place, then I wouldn't have had to blog about it!)
      Perfectionism is the thing I want to avoid! I agree, perfect attendance was never my thing (although, good for anyone who had it). But perfection for the sake or perfection is not necessarily success.
      Thanks so much for your perspective! Love you lots! 💕

  2. And this is awesome how vulnerable you are making yourself! It is inspiring, for real.

  3. I agree to just let her make it up. She is gaining the benefits of daily (every day) practice -- so impressive.

  4. You're a great Mom, Kate! The fact you care so much and then put yourself out there in a vulnerable way to try and find out what would be the best thing for your daughter says so much. You're doing an amazing job!

    I'm not sure if you still need advice, but I'm with Mel and Jenna. I would sit down with Riley and be honest with her about how you feel. Tell her what was going on with you when you told her she lost her 100 days. Give her the option to make it up. Let her know you want her to achieve her goals and dreams. (Like Mel said, applaud her amazing accomplishment so far.) Then let her know that you also want to teach her the things she needs to know in order to succeed. Ask her what she thinks would be fair.

    I know that with my kids, when I'm honest with them about why I reacted the way I did (and even admit to them that I don't know if my reactions were a mistake or not), they take the responsibility with me to brainstorm about their learning and growing pretty seriously and come up with some good ideas.

    I could see Riley being very reflective and self observant. That also teaches her about failure and success as she sees her mom learning how to handle motherhood in a real and honest way. She's a lucky girl to have you!