You can’t fall if you don’t climb

Why are so many of us afraid to fail?

We worry what people will think, that we won’t look good/smart/capable enough if we fail. After all, most people who fail on television and in movies are losers – rejected, teased, unwanted, unattractive people, right? Who would risk this?

your failures do not define you

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Failing is temporary. Understanding where we went wrong teaches important life skills, such as patience, perseverance, decision making, and problem solving. Fear of failure is sometimes connected with shame. Instead of saying, “I made a mistake’ (temporary), shame strikes at the core of who we are as people. Shame says, “I am a mistake.”

That is an all too easy  leap of logic for some of us. We can learn from mistakes, but we are not our mistakes. Henry Ford understood this.


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Parenting and teaching experts encourage us to focus on the effortchild puts in, not so much the results — “Wow, you really tried hard on that!” When effort is encouraged, studies show children are far more likely to attempt a more challenging task next time. 

Why do we appreciate effort in children more than adults? As adults we seem to forget that it takes a lot of practice to be good at complex tasks. Performance is not a fixed ability beyond an individual’s control. You’re not born an Olympic swimmer, or a violinist, or a parent. Connecting achievement with effort (Rome wasn’t built in a day) is empowering and leaves room for growth.


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Seeing failure and mistakes positively, as a marker of what still needs to be learned can liberate us to push limits, stretch ourselves, take risks and be the person we are meant to be.

Kids watch grown-ups, a lot. How do we model failure to children? I used (excused) my mistakes as a teacher to show my students I wasn’t perfect, (that it’s not the end of the world) and how I might bounce back. This sometimes goofy approach encouraged students to have a go.

Dr Seuss

Dr Seuss

Recently my youngest daughter gave me a dose of my own medicine when I was whinging despondent about something and wanted to give up . “If you love it, you won’t stop, you’ll just keep trying and get better at it.”
So weird.

Arafura – chapter 23 (I’ve had my rant, now Adam can have his)

Arafura cover May 13

Adam gathered his thoughts, clearly frustrated.

“What’s wrong with failing? Why do people think failing at one thing makes them a failure in general?” He drew a deep breath, as if gathering the patience to explain for the hundredth time.

“History is full of successful people who failed, often repeatedly. Walt Disney? – not enough imagination, multiple bankruptcies. Darwin? – considered below intellect. Einstein? – expelled from school. Winston Churchill? – a string of political failures. J.K. Rowling & your friend Dr Seuss? – rejected by multiple publishers. Abraham Lincoln, Monet, Mozart….it’s a long list.”

Kat looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Have you quite finished?”

“It annoys me! People have such a fixed idea of who they are and what they can do.”


BTW – One of my favourite books is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – by Susan Jeffers

Jeffers asks, “What is stopping you from being the person you want to be and living your life the way you want to live it? The answer is fear.”

Comments, thoughts? 🙂

This entry was posted in emotions, fear of failure, shame and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to You can’t fall if you don’t climb

  1. Then how do you explain the fact that you never fail to impress me with your posts?

  2. Thanks, nice to have that feedback this morning.
    Suspicious you are making up for outrageous taunting on a certain blog, though. 🙂

  3. Lee-Anne says:

    I do like this post. Everyone is so fixed on success and it is, after all, often illusory.Your message puts me in mind of that truism: “It’s not about the destination, but the journey.” 🙂

  4. Peekiequeen says:

    As always nicely put my Dear. Cheers!

  5. Your closing thoughts on fear is fodder for a whole other post, Susan. The paragraph on parenting experts’ word on effort harkens (in my mind) to part 5 of my greatness series: Smarts, Praise, & the Myth of Self-Esteem, which made my top 2. I may have fallen off your reader by then. Parents and teachers had a lot to say, pretty much in agreement of the post. No obligation to talk about the post whether you saw it or not.

    I appreciate your take on modeling failure.
    All the best – and fruitful failure – to you in the new year. LOL.


    • Thanks Diana. Sounds like a suggestion worth following up, will definitely read that post of yours and revisit the wonderful work of Susan Jeffers (but sadly no longer with us). Look forward to bouncing ideas with you in 2014! Ha ha, the word ‘authentic’ just popped in my mind about you. 🙂

    • Also, I meant to say, do you have anywhere on your blog where people can click to receive notifications of new posts via email as well? Am I being blind as well as lazy? 🙂

      • I think you’ve called me authentic before. =) I am grateful for the affirmation, Susan. Btw, you’re no fake, yourself. 😉 It’s funny…what you said is something I’ll be talking about in the next post.

        And of course I have the email subscrx button on the sidebar. You tap open any post by clicking on the title – can tap the About, too. And voila, the sidebar rolls out. Let me know if you have trouble.


      • Voila-you are right, I was blind, and vague on details. Now I will get email notifications, at last. 🙂

        I’m not apologising, repeating myself about calling you authentic. It’s a special quality!

      • You’re too much. And a bit harsh on yourself. I am grateful you looked to get my posts by email.


  6. Pingback: What if I fail…? | Who Me Be A Leader?

  7. Pingback: Fellow Blogger – Susan from Putting in a good word | It Goes On

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