Guest Post: The Importance of Failure

The Importance of Failure

After reading Nancy Gibbs’ piece in the latest issue of Time Magazine it occurred to me that we as a society are doing a great disservice to our children in sparing almost no effort to shield them from failure. In my opinion, this, more than anything else, may be the greatest threat to American capitalism.

Whether we like it or not, capitalism is based on a system of winners and losers. People cry when a Wal-Mart opens, complaining that it will drive the local supermarket out of business. What they don’t remember is that the local supermarket probably drove someone else out of business. This is the “circle of life” when it comes to capitalism: if you cannot compete, you fail. If we, as Americans, want to enjoy the benefits of capitalism, we must accept its biggest flaw: failure is inevitable. Instead of working overtime to prevent our children from failing, we must – within reason, of course – allow them to fail and then teach them how to deal with it.

As a coach, during some part of the season, I would tell my team that, as athletes, they have a tremendous advantage over non-athletes. As I became smarter, I would also include members of the band, chess club, and any other competitive organization. I would tell them that, as competitors, they were bound to lose, and that if they lost a game on Monday, they would have to get over it by practice on Tuesday, and be ready to play again on Wednesday. After such losses, we would sit down for a while and talk about what went wrong, and how we could prepare ourselves to win the next game. Sometimes the answers were hard to face: especially when we had to look at ourselves and realize that we did not put forth our best effort (as players and as the coach). Sometimes the answer was really simple: the other team was just better. Even with that realization I would use the words from an old Clint Eastwood movie and tell the team that if we were to beat them the next time we would have to “adapt and overcome”. (as an educator I shouldn’t admit this, but I used Clint Eastwood quotes a lot)

As a society, we are no longer willing or able to analyze failure. We are too quick to blame someone else. I just heard that some organization is trying to blame a rise in pedestrian fatalities on Michelle Obama’s call for us to walk more. How stupid is that. As I watch people walk and drive while texting and not paying attention in a variety of ways I have reached the conclusion that it is probably not Mrs. Obama’s fault. There is no way we can work to solve the problem of rising pedestrian fatalities if we try to explain it away as someone else’s fault.

As my coaching career ended, more and more the players, the parents, and even some coaches would blame the officials. More and more, we refuse to be accountable for our own failures and by blaming someone else and refusing to analyze our own role in failure, how can we prepare to “adapt and overcome” in the future.

We need to let our children fail, and then explain to them that there is no shame in failure. We need to teach our children that they are inevitably going to fail at some point in their lives, and that how they deal with failure is the key to their ultimate success. We need to teach our children how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back into the game. If we fail to do this, our present way of life is doomed – and when it ends I am sure that we will quickly try to blame someone else for it.

This guest post was written by Gary Touchton. Mr. Touchton is a retired AP history teacher from Pennsylvania and is currently employed by Specialty Answering Service as a liaison to colleges and universities for Specialty's education answering service. The service offers emergency alert services and hotline services to educational facilities across the United States.