Failing Doesn't Make You a Failure

By Rachel DeSena - March 15, 2019

Does Failing Make You a Failure?

The idea of a growth mindset is something we discuss frequently at Method.  We discuss it with our students when we review their test scores and course progress and we discuss it among ourselves as employees when we meet and plan how to best serve our families.  But if overused “growth mindset” just turns into a buzzword. So I have been challenging myself to better understand the growth mindset with the hopes of fully developing it within myself, my students, my colleagues, and my family.  To begin, I am trying to really understand the growth mindset by finding examples of it all around me and alternatively, non-examples.

This week I was teaching middle school students how to read and respond in writing to nonfiction articles.  We were reading a biographical article about Shaun White. If you are not familiar with him, Shaun White is a successful athlete. He falls firmly in the extreme sports world, as a skateboarder and snowboarder, from right here in SoCal! By all measures of the word, Shaun White is a success!  During our lesson, the students and I learned that at a very young age he became a professional athlete, broke a multitude of records, and won a bounty of gold medals in both the Olympics and the X Games.

It all sounded very impressive. But I was surprised to read that Shaun came up short in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.  He didn’t win any medals! The article made a point to say that he didn’t win anything. Which got me thinking about that growth mindset.  Here was a perfect teachable growth mindset moment! Shaun White is a superb athlete, but he didn’t medal in Sochi even though he had many other gold medals, does that make him a failure? He was quoted as saying “You’d think losing would be the end of things, but it was just the beginning. Instead of letting it destroy me, I sat back and asked myself, ‘What do I really want to do now?”.  Wow, if that is not the embodiment of a growth mindset then I don’t know what is! Shaun White’s success has continued because of his growth mindset. He could have let not medaling in Sochi devastate him, but he didn’t, he looked at it as an opportunity for growth!

As a society, we often celebrate people, like Shaun White, for their success but we never take a look at the failures that those successful people endure.  Some of the most celebrated and successful people in our culture suffered many failures before becoming successful. This article describes 15 very successful people who failed many times before we ever heard of them.  Among these greats are Oprah, Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, and Walt Disney! By ignoring the failures of people we consider to be successful and only focuses on their triumphs we forget how success does not come easily!  Most people who achieve great things work very hard and fail many times. We do our children, and even ourselves, a disservice by not explaining that. No one is just either a success or a failure. Everything we do has consequences, either good ones or bad ones.  Working hard and doing the right thing usually pays off and people who become successful have qualities such as tenacity, persistence, and determination.

Rather than teaching our kids that some people in life are successful simply because they are great, let’s teach them that successful people fail too.  Everyone fails but that is not the end of the story. What matters is how do we react to failure? Do we give up or do we keep at and keep working hard to achieve our goals? Let’s never discourage failure but instead look at it as an opportunity to grow, just like Shaun White did!

Do you know of anyone, either famous or someone you know personally, that has failed but is still considered to be a success?  I would love to hear of any! And if you can’t think of any take a look at the article linked above. Did you know all of those people failed so many times before becoming successful?  I was surprised!

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