Shh! Don’t tell my daughter. By society’s standards, she’s a failure. She cannot stand on her own and each time we think she will, she falls. Falling over and over and over again. With a record like that, you’d think she’d have given up by now.
Even if you told my daughter she had failed, she wouldn’t quite understand you. You could be in her face about it and she’d probably smile at you. At nine months, she hasn’t quite grasped language. I’m thankful for that, because we have turned language into a weapon. In a few years, someone will describe her shortcomings to her in great detail and then she might stop trying.
Of course, my daughter isn’t a “failure,” if we follow common sense. She’s a learner and an explorer. Her attempts to stand are part of her maturing process and she has lasted four seconds a couple times. Even those end with a tumble. The moment she hits the floor, though, she’s right back up on her knees with a big grin on her face, grabbing for a sturdy object, lifting herself to her feet, and letting go. Some parents we are. We actually encourage this behavior!
At some point, though, we forget what it’s like to be a kid and we give up. Don’t we? We equate not achieving perfection with not achieving. A child who might not be ready for math equations proceeds through school hating math because falling to the floor becomes “failure.” The red letter follows him home, gets marked on a card, and bounces with him from grade to grade. He becomes Peppermint Patty with that perpetual “D-“ looming no matter the pursuit. Without time to figure out why the equations landed the student on the floor, he’s left there, marked a “failure” by the system. That’s quite a scar to carry through life.
In adulthood, the fear of failure prevents many of us from having the lives we want. We are taught to avoid failure at all costs. With that disappears the adventure and risk that invigorates a life worth leading. The negative what-ifs, the security of a job, the skepticism of friends, and the fear of lacking money or falling ill keep many of us in stagnant positions. The nagging “What if this doesn’t work out?” drowns out any positive, such as “What if this is a rollicking success?!”
Effort never brings failure, so the very act of trying should be the antidote to that pesky word. My daughter puts in a huge effort as she advances through stages of her humanity. That she cannot stand doesn’t get her down. In fact, it gets her back up.
We all want to be happy, right? My daughter’s lucky that she cannot understand the language or the cultural connotations of certain words. Let’s be more like her! Let’s live as though “failure” doesn’t exist, as though the word means nothing to us. Without fearing the ascription of that label from society or our peers, there will be nothing to hold us back.
Imagine the possibilities!