I remember sitting in an Italian restaurant after my high school graduation ceremony. I was surrounded by friends and family. My dad got up to make a short speech.
In that short speech he told me that he was giving me the permission to fail. Not that he wished I would or that he was promising to be permissive of any foolishness. But he wanted me to know that as I stepped out in my next adventure after high school that I had his “permission” to try new things and fail at them.
This is a profound commission that parents can give their children, especially their young adult children as they launch into life.
Failure Is Not Fatal
If young adults don’t have the permission to fail, they will not do anything. The fear of failure paralyzes young adults from stepping out and taking any form of risk. But taking risks is often what leads to great opportunities in young adulthood.
Colonel Mike Bell was a beloved mentor of many in the Unbound community. He was often fond of quoting Winston Churchill’s inspiring declaration: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
At Unbound, we like to put it this way: failure is an option. This is no Mission Impossible with the lives of millions on the line in the face of a nuclear fallout. The stakes are not that high. Your student should know that failure is an option. In fact, failure can often teach your young adult more than success will.
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This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should encourage your son or daughter to set out to fail intentionally. They should apply themselves to the work at hand, do their best, and give it their best shot. But parents would be wise to free their students from the paralysis that sets in through fear of failure.
“If At First You Don’t Succeed…”
The old saying goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This expresses the essence of resilience. In a generation of young people who struggle with instant gratification and immediate payoff, resilience and persistence in failure is a strong advantage that will help your student stand out from the crowd.
While this all sounds good in theory, our culture generally takes a very different approach. Many young people are judged by their grades in college for example. Each paper impacts their grade for the class and each class determines the success of their degree. Failing in their pursuit of the degree is framed as leading to financial ruin down the road.
How Modern Higher Ed Treats Failure
In the modern higher education system, there is little “permission” for failure. Get a bad grade, fail a class, drop out of school, and you’ll ruin your chances of future success. That’s what students hear (whether they are told that explicitly or not). No wonder there is so much paralysis and anxiety among young adults!
How Unbound Approaches Failure
Instead, we believe that students should have permission to fail, which frees them up to do real work in the real world where they will learn from real experience. Unbound students have completed remarkable projects during their time in the Ascend program but not every project ends in the same picture of success.
Every Ascend student is given the opportunity to learn from failure in their project. Things don’t always turn out as expected. Students are not shamed for failure. Neither are they shielded from it. They are given “permission” to fail and encouraged to learn from success and failure alike.
Ascend is a professional development and leadership program for students who aren’t afraid to take the road less traveled. Ascend includes a job guarantee, biblical leadership training, project-based education, strong community, and high-level certificates. Schedule a free consultation to learn more.
Jace Bower is the Marketing Coordinator for Unbound. An Unbound alumnus, he has experienced firsthand the powerful advantages of doing college differently and participating in an intentional community. Jace graduated with his bachelor’s degree in History in 2016 and has worked in restaurant management and marketing since then. He also served on the Unbound Student Cabinet in 2019.
The author of two books and a semi-regular blogger, Jace can often be found doing something with words. When he’s not, chances are he’s reading about theology, listening to music, or playing pool or tennis with his wife Shannon in their Virginia home.