Flirt with Failure!
Have you ever flirted with something or someone? Did you enjoy it? Did you enjoy that emotional dabble? Did you feel the flutter whilst having a fleeting vision of what could be? Can you see yourself flirting with failure? If not, why not? Is there something in our psyche that prevents us from putting such a positive emotional experience (as a flirt-er not flirt-ee – my word!) of flirting alongside a word like ‘failure’?
It seems like the education system in the UK lags behind the rest of the world in how it defines success. We are now, just moving from avoiding FUDGE (bear with me – I will explain!) to a new way of measuring grades in secondary education in the UK. In my day we did O levels and I remember the first computer coming into schools the year I left – revolutionary I tell you!! We also had CSEs, graded 1-5 as well as O levels and A levels with letters denoting grades. So for as long as I can remember – a good benchmark for O levels/GCSEs was to achieve 5 subjects at grades A* – C – although the A-star bit was not around in my day!! Hence anything below that – DEFG or U (an anagram of FUDGE), was deemed a failure in fact the F stood for Fail and the U was unclassified – which is worse than failure!
So failure was/is a term that I was and I believe our children are, socialised to fear and feel a lot of anxiety over. As a School Governor for the last 10 years I have been surrounded by letters and numbers that determine success. Even the league tables perpetuated a similar value and was the basis on which many parents chose a school for their child/ren. Whilst I did hear stories about encouraging children to do better, praising achievements and getting additional resources where there was a need, there is nothing in my memory that conveyed a alternative approach to viewing ‘failure’.
Whilst the school world is stuck in letters and numbers, and increasing exam stress experienced by pupils, there is a significant element of the adult working world (except in politics!) where failure has been successfully re-branded as ‘A learning opportunity’ ‘A step towards ‘success’ ‘growth’ ‘progress’ and ‘effort’.
I find this very refreshing in the personal development ‘industry’, to some extent in the board room, the world of entrepreneurs and to some degree, in the world of sport. So why has this ethos not really penetrated the British education system? It’s the time when we have the most opportunity to influence the great (malleable) minds of the future, the custodians of our legacy. We start out well, when they are under 5 and we focus on things like motor skills, language acquisition, learning through play etc. Then we get to primary schools were we have teacher assessments (numbers again with a bit of commentary) and by age 10/11 we are teaching the children not to learn by experience of success and failure through life and in the classroom, but learn this so you can attain this standard (another number to aspire to) and be deemed to be ‘achieving.’ It seems like the most consistent area that schools have sort of embraced this in on the sports field on sports day: ‘It’s not the winning it’s the taking part’. But is has gone a bit silly with everyone being a winner for taking part – so everyone gets a medal and parents races are banned because they are deemed to be too competitive. So what are the implications for this?
The education system in this country (the UK) starts out promising at age 4/5, nurturing both sides of the brain and in fact perhaps utilising more right brain type creative ways of learning: role play, sensory corners, building and construction, songs, dressing up, drawing and paying attention to emotional intelligence as well as speech and language acquisition. When a child fall down and gets up – this is seen as positive. When children play together and manage their own conflicts etc – these things are measured within developmental milestones and when a child produces something they are always praised. I remember when my children would come home with these barely coherent drawings that only made sense to them. We praised them and and found some crafty way of discussing something we couldn’t really understand! We put them up on the walls and eventually ran out of space! Then the guilt sets in when you have to take stuff down! We’ve all been there!!
Fast forward to when they get to 10 years old and you begin to see the joy disappear. They have become conscious of tests and even more conscious of the need to do well in them. By Year 7/Age 11 they are thrust into a compartmentalised world of left brain education. Each subject is separate. Each has a different teacher and pupils are not taught to make connections between subjects. Teachers are now more open about assessments and streaming children into sets based on ability. Pupils are more conscious of this too! Young people are told ‘Oh you need to this to achieve a level X’ Parents evenings are a sea of numbers otherwise known as attainment targets/levels measured against age related expectations. Schools are pitted against each other and ultimately all are pitted against government benchmarks (Enter stage left: Progress 8 and buckets!). So as I write feeling exhausted by the expectations upon my children , much less me, I laugh at the new Progress 8 benchmark which now sees A*-C out the window which are replaced by scores of 9 down to 1. And Good passes are numbers 9-5! Are you kidding me? Who made that up????????
So now that message is you need to get 9-5 in your subjects to get a good nine to five job!!
Anyway…… Fast forward again…..Having been part of many a success seminar (they are the in thing now aren’t they!) particularly over the last 5 years- personal development, building wealth, creating passive business income, facing your fears etc…. I have entered into a world where failure is seen in very different light. The likes of Tony Robbins, Les Brown, Robert Kiyosaki, Mac Attram, T Harv Eker, Blair Singer – they all talk about failure as being a core element of their success! They talk about failure teaching them valuable lessons, building their character and making them stronger. They all have their stories of when they were at a low point and then something happened that turned their lives around.
It wasn’t anyone ‘fixing’ them or bailing them out or giving them a leg up (I recall Trump saying his dad helped him out with a small loan of £1M!!) – more they had experiences that changed the way they thought about things and the way they did things. It usually involved meeting someone or witnessing something that profoundly affected them. When I entered into this ‘personal development – must have a coach/must have a mentor or two’ world, it can seem quite fantastic and contrived. You can’t quite believe THESE people were once sofa surfing or didn’t have a penny in the bank but their stories of failures and determination to succeed are very inspiring and ones that I can relate to. Having been on a path myself (always on a path actually) I can now look back and see that I have learned from failure and it has enabled me not to just learn but share wisdom. It has helped me create my style, my uniqueness and my tools for life. As parents we use our wise-dom in a similar way to try and bring our children into a better space than we were – then they go through a period of not listening to us and then a period of eternal gratitude having failed and learned according to your very predictions as their parent! So when people talk about don’t take financial advice from someone who is broke – I disagree! Don’t take marriage guidance counselling from a divorced person – I disagree! There is something to be learned from everyone – even if its the ‘don’t do what I did’ type of advice. So please do not be afraid to fail – it will move you forward in your life – it will teach you invaluable lessons – nothing that is worth it is easy to achieve. Flirt with failure – just don’t enter into a long term relationship with it!!