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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Ultimate Love Gift: Permission To Fail

People always malign the strawberry generation, saying that these young people are not resilient. What people do not do is to take responsibility for the strawberry generation. It is we, the older folks who made them strawberries.

You see, when we were parents, we never gave them our permission to fail. If they did badly at something, we would get disappointed. We took each one of their failures to heart. We insisted that they do well at every exam. Get into top schools at every milestone. We tuitioned them to death and prevented them from tasting failure. When they did fail anyway, we spitefully told them, "See lah... fail... I hope you learnt your lesson!"

Strawberries are not resilient because they are so afraid to fail. Failure is shameful and associated with every negative emotion recorded in the human experience. Who taught them that? We did!

I think that the best gift of love you can give someone you love is your Permission to Fail. If you fail enough times and get back up, success is a matter of mathematical probability, especially if you have a highly intelligent child with a stubborn attitude. If your child fights your efforts to help him/her, you have a stubborn child. Make that work for you. Stubborn X Intelligent = Success provided the child fails enough times and gets up again.

In Primary 2, The Son submitted 11 toys to the Sony Toy Competition. The competition required each entry to be accompanied by documentation. The Son was only 8. His handwriting was horrible. He did not know how to use the computer to type out his documentation. He handwrote all his documentation in his bad and childish handwriting. Other kids submitted documentation typed out by their parents. They submitted toys that their parents put together. Of course, they won and my son lost. We all agreed, as a family, that The Son had fun making toys.

In Year 3 of secondary school, The Son competed in the Amazing Flying Machine. I blogged about it HERE. He registered 1 week after the registration deadline, scrambled to build his plane and lost to the ITE boys. He lost and he lost good. His attitude was "We will learn from this year's mistakes and put up a better fight next year, Mom," and then he went off to disinfect his smelly armpits. Since he was not bothered, I also did not bother. The year after, he errrr... lost again to the ITE boys. Don't underestimate the ITE boys ok! They are formidable opponents in these competitions.

The Son never let losing bother him. The joy was in the process of achieving. The achievement itself did not matter. Humility was the armour that kept him resilient and pride is a useless thing. Parents who threaten their children with "People will laugh at you if you fail," are destroying their children's resilience. Their kids are so afraid to fail, that they refuse to try. They have so much pride that they think losing will hurt too much.

There were times when I sent The Son into an exam in primary school telling him, "For the Chinese compo, I expect you to get last in class. This is because we have not got around to fixing that section of the Chinese exam paper yet. Don't feel bad if you fail." When he did badly, as expected, I shrugged away his disappointment and said, "Nehmind one... we will learn from this."

As a psychologist, I know that the stream of research that examines top performers in every field from Beethoven to Babe Ruth to Einstein show that these people do not just achieve more than others, they fail more than others, AND they fail more spectacularly too! It is simply that their failures are not generally spoken of. Don't believe me? Go read THIS.

It was the same with The Son. When he brought home the championship from IDC Robocon 2017 (where at age 16 yrs, he went up against university students from Asia's best universities and MIT), I told everyone I knew... but of course, I did not tell them that he lost to the ITE boys at The Amazing Flying Machine.

When his research paper finished in the top 3 spots at the Young Defence Scientist Program and he presented his research the the Minister of Defence (or 1 of the many Ministers of Defence that we have), I also told the whole world... but I did not tell them that he had previously lost the Sony Toy Competition despite submitting 11 toys.

Personal success is built on the corpses of many personal failures. Parents who help their children win right through primary school deny their kids the important lessons on How to Fail Spectacularly. If you don't know how to lose spectacularly, you will never learn how to win big.

The same gift of love can be given to husbands too. When The Husband set out to do the most awful job in his entire life, I told him that it was ok with me if he gave up, let go. I did not mind going back to live in an HDB flat. As long as I could be with him, nothing else mattered. It was my love and my permission for him to fail, that fed him the strength to stay the course.

Great achievements come only when someone you love affords you the permission to fail. Parents should give that type of love to their children.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Petunia,

I share your view. I have a stubborn son and I have learnt that the best way to let him learn is to learn from his failure. Each failure really made him learnt and think better although sometimes he still let history repeat itself. :)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Like the way you think. Keep on writing as i enjoyed reading them alot.

Take good care.

From Jen

Petunia Lee said...

Thanks for dropping by. This post is more about supporting them emotionally when they fail. :-)

GT said...

Dear Dr Petunia,

Thanks for speaking about a topic that is taboo in Asian societies. My takeaway is to help my child and even myself to handle mistakes in a positive way. Do not miss out on learning even if it is from a mistake/ failure.

Petunia Lee said...

@GT... Yes! Yes! I am glad the post blessed you in this way!

Anonymous said...

I was thinking we have to be able to accept the whatever outcome mentally first before being able to support them emotionally or else we will be negative in our action and speech.

For every failure, we provided listening ears n empathise with him while helping him to see things from many spectrum so that he can moved on postively. When history repeated itself, the same cycle repeated for to err is human. There are always rooms for growth and I always told him that failure is a learning process that help us to be a better person even for failure that is done wilfully.