My daughter shared with some friends we had for dinner about the cupcake business she and her best friend started. A week earlier, they had set up a stand in front of the house and had made a small fortune (to them) selling the cupcakes. Our friends, wanting to encourage my daughter’s entrepreneurial spirit, said they needed 4 dozen cupcakes the following week for a baby shower. Could she do that? My daughter beamed and gave an enthusiastic nod. Yes!!! My husband and I exchanged a nervous glance.
When baking day arrived, the girls worked in a frenzy as if they were starring on an episode of Cupcake Wars. Trying to play it cool, I came in and asked how they figured out how to quadruple the recipe since they usually only made a dozen at a time. “Oh, we made our own recipe.” Oh wow. That’s…super adventurous of you.
I decided to give them their space mostly so I wouldn’t have a nervous break down. After a while I heard, “I’m not sure what happened to the icing!” And then triumphantly, “Now we’ve got it!”
I finally walk into the kitchen to see the finished product and accompanying mess, with my 3-year-old standing at the sink proudly “doing the dishes”.
I took a bite of cupcake. And then came the question that I was most dreading: “What do you think? Do you like them?” Do you know that look that your child gets when they are trying to be so brave and they plaster on a smile, but you can see the tears starting to build?
Um…They are ok, Jo.
The tears came. What’s the matter? I asked as gingerly as possible. Silence except for the sound of her fingers swirling nervously in the sprinkle jar.
“THEY’RE DRY!” Sobs.
A little. And just a bit strong on the vanilla.
“Yeah… we poured a little too much by accident.”
It’s one of the greatest lessons we can give to our kids. But it can’t be taught through direct instruction or by reading a good book on the topic. It has to be experienced first hand. And it hurts.
It’s a lesson that I am still learning myself since failure, rejection, and criticism just doesn’t mesh well with my Enneagram 8 self:
Failure? Not an option.
I can think back to a few isolated moments of humiliation in my childhood, but they only served to reinforce the fact that I needed to play it safe and strive for perfection to avoid the possibility of failure or rejection.
My husband is the exact opposite. When I started asking him if he remembered a time of failure during his growing up years he shared a steady stream of example after example. He was cut from the basketball team his senior year of high school. He went off to college and wanted to play on the team but was quickly told he wasn’t good enough. He graduated and was rejected by several law schools. He worked a sales job and was handed a phone book and told to start calling. He started his own business and approached potential clients. No, no, no, no….
As he went on and on I thought, why would you keep trying all these things? He attributes it to his parents who (apparently over and over again) taught him that failure is just a part of life. We learn from it and move on. These stories are my kids favorites. They are funny, touching, relatable and we can all see how he has become the man of perseverance that he is today because of them. But knowing that failure is just a part of life or that they will someday make a great story isn’t quite motivation enough for me to intentionally set myself up for it.
Why are some people better at failing than others? Is it personality? Is it practice ? And ultimately, is failure really necessary?
We have a classic story in my family about my mom following my brother to school everyday so that when he parked off campus he could jump in her car and be delivered to the front door on time because if he was late to school he would have to take his final exams. She was just helping her son succeed, right?
Some failures that plainly result from a lack of initiative or disregard for instruction, teach our children responsibility or the importance of striving towards excellence.
But there is a deeper sense failure that stings more acutely because it has to do with the person we are and the ways we are gifted.
“I hate art.” commented my oldest daughter, Jo. What? You are amazing! “I mess up all the time.” It’s not about perfection, it’s about the process, spending tons of time producing things, and getting better with each attempt. “Well it’s embarrassing when I cry during class when I make a mistake.” You do that? Well, why don’t you just stop doing that.
No one tells her in art class that she has failed. But often the voice of rejection in our head is the loudest one of all.
It’s natural for us to want to protect our kids from rejection and failure. We love them and don’t want to see them hurting. However, in doing so, we may be keeping them from growing in responsibility, creativity, innovation, and ultimately from the grace and affirmation we can provide as parents when they fail. For us to say “I know you are hurting. You did such a brave thing and I am so proud!” is one of the greatest forms of love we can give our children.
I think back to my daughter’s cupcake fiasco. How many times did I want to step in and just take over the situation? So many. But in allowing her to fail, I also created room for grace; a place that I’m hoping she will always know she can come back to no matter what. A place to put those lies of rejection to rest as I affirm the young woman that God is making her to be.
Take some time with your kids to look up the stories of some of the following historical icons: Albert Einstein , Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Sydney Poitier, J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss. They all endured experiences where they were genuinely hurt and rejected by either people of influence or authority figures in their lives. I guarantee they had some cheer-leader, some hug-giver or tear-wiper in their corner saying, I believe in you. Keep putting your ideas out there, they are great! You are wonderfully made!
If our kids are not put in vulnerable, exposing-their-true-self situations when they are young, it will become difficult, if not impossible, for them to take risks as adults and chance putting their creative selves on display for all to see. Believe me, I know. The reality is, though, when we put ourselves out there and encourage our children to do the same, we are also risking great success; risking change in our community in big and small ways, and risking innovative solutions to society’s problems.
Should I fail while taking a risk, I know that I will be met with the grace of a loving husband and children who will encourage me, as well as a community of friends who will walk beside me, pressing me to try again and affirming who I am. I need to experience the grace that comes from putting myself out there and receiving the praise, or criticism or rejection that comes in return. The same people that are with me when I am rejected will be there to join me in my victory as well.
Links to Jia Jiang’s TED Talk and book on rejection.