Room to Fail = Room to Grow

by Joyce

A recent Seth Godin blog post really grabbed my attention. In it, he talks about climbing “an endless series of difficult (but achievable) hills” as the way to success — in short, setting prudent milestones. This seems pretty simple … so why is it so hard? Seth has an idea: “There are plenty of obvious reasons why we avoid picking the right interim steps, why we either settle for too little or foolishly shoot for too much. Mostly it comes down to fear and impatience.”

His post seemed highly relevant to a question I’ve often asked myself: Why it’s harder to learn as adults than as children? Some say that your mind grows less elastic with age, but I don’t entirely buy that. Maybe it’s true once you’re knocking on 70, but twenties? thirties? forties even? No way. If anything, my mind feels like it’s growing ever more fertile. So why is it that learning often trickles to a stop after we leave school?

I think it’s because we stop trying. And I think that’s because we’re scared to fail.

Children are given a lot of leeway to fail. They are given ample time to achieve each small milestone, and they’re allowed to mess up over and over again. It’s okay to be bad at something when you’re a kid. But we “grown ups” are a different matter; it’s not nearly so okay to be bad at something if you’re an adult. The expectation is that by now, you should have mastered whatever it is you were going to do in life … and if you haven’t, well by golly, hurry up! When trying something new as an adult, if you exhibit anything short of extraordinary progress, people often wonder why you’re wasting your time. (I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve thought this about people too.)

So we stop trying, and therefore we stop growing.

It reminds me of fixed vs. growth mindsets, which is one of the most empowering ideas I’ve ever come across. Under a fixed mindset, people see themselves as being, well, fixed in their abilities. They avoid challenges and therefore stagnate over time.. The growth mindset, on the other hand, embraces challenge — and failure — as a way to enhance their abilities. Over time, they become ever more capable. Ironically, you’ll notice that each mindset is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I spent many years under the fixed mindset, and when I finally embraced the growth mindset, it was like a suffocating person finally given fresh air. I now treasure my newfound freedom — freedom to fail, and freedom to grow. It’s a difficult mental switch to make, but it’s worth the struggle. You will be so much happier!

I’ll end with a great quotation that I read to myself whenever I’m scared to try something: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” Hopefully, it’ll help get you over a hill or two in your lifelong journey of growth. :)