Does Your Student Have Permission to Fail?
We were at an Italian restaurant after my high school graduation ceremony. Friends and family were gathered around the table.
My dad got up.
Time for a speech.
And while I don’t remember everything he said, I do remember at least one thing.
He said, “I’m giving you permission to make mistakes.”
By that he meant that he wasn’t expecting me to make perfect decisions as I launched into adulthood. Nor was he expecting that I would execute flawlessly.
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He was saying, in essence, that I had the freedom to try without first guaranteeing success.
That’s a freedom that fewer people these days embrace. Past generations embraced this ability to make mistakes. But something has changed. Now, we are often restricted by the fear of failure.
Failure IS an Option
“Failure is not an option.”
Phrases like that bring to mind Mission Impossible-esque stakes.
But when, in real life, is failure not an option?
I’m sure you can come up with one or two instances but, in general, failure won’t be catastrophic. Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
When we look at the many men and women throughout history who have enjoyed incredible success, we notice a pattern of persistence amidst failure. Examples include Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and Gladys Aylward. These figures did not stop when they met their first failure. In fact, those early obstacles contributed much to their later impact.
If your student wants to live a life of impact, they have to be free to fail and make some mistakes.
The Best Way to Learn From Failure
A responsible student will take this freedom to fail as a growth opportunity, not a license for laziness or foolishness.
Practicing failure may sound absurd but there’s actually something to it.
If your student can learn from failure in a relatively safe environment, they can minimize the risk of their mistakes, while maximizing their learning opportunities.
The question is: how do you set up a student to fail in the best way possible?
It’s important to make sure your student knows that they are not alone in their endeavors. Even if they work on a solo project, reassure them that if things don’t work out, there is a support system for them. This could include family, friends, or mentors.
There’s a pretty substantial difference between failing at a senior project in high school and failing at leading a company or ministry. Help your student start small and work their way up to bigger projects and responsibilities. As they demonstrate faithfulness and experience in little things, they can expand to try bigger things.
Ambitious projects are great. But it can also be helpful to start with something smaller, especially if your student is more hesitant and apprehensive about making mistakes.
Have you given your student permission to fail and make mistakes? Are they equipped to fail well and learn from their experiences?
Failure can teach us a lot. Nothing compares to learning from actually doing something. Even if it doesn’t work out right away, the process is a great growth tool.
Looking for a practical education program that lets students learn from their real experiences? Check out Ascend.
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.