How’s that for a politically-incorrect title?
Failure is a pretty distasteful word in our culture.
“They were such a failure…”
“He totally failed at that…”
“Failure is not an option.”
We’ve all heard and said those phrases and they carry an extremely negative connotation, don’t they?
As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve had a longstanding beef with failure. I hate messing up, I hate making mistakes, and I hate knowing I could have done something better.
And yet… I’ve come to embrace and even celebrate failure the last few years… Sound bizarre? Allow me to explain:
I’ve had quite a personal transformation over the course of this homesteader-turned-blogger-turned-entrepreneur journey. It’s something I never expected and I didn’t exactly see it turning into what it has when I first started fantasizing about a compost pile. It’s been a life-altering journey of upleveling myself and my mindset, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
As a result, people often ask me how it all happened… They want to know my number one tip, my secret sauce, my advice for other “normal people” hoping to experience success in their own journey, whatever that may be.
For the longest time, I never knew what to say… I would hem and haw and stutter as I tried to spit out the semi-coherant word of wisdom I assumed they were expecting.
After spending a lot of time pondering this (and I mean a LOT– I’m weird like that…), I think I’ve narrowed it down to a single, over-arching principle which has given me a big boost in my life–bigger than anything else:
I’m willing to fail more and fail bigger than most people I know.
Homesteading is what first taught me the true value of failure. Looking back at the last 8 years, we’ve had some considerable mess-ups in our homesteading journey… Things like:
- Moving the same fence line THREE TIMES because we couldn’t make up our mind where to put it…
- Killing and replanting the same line of trees in the tree row four times…
- Missing the window on breeding the milk cow many months in a row our first year of AI…
- Burning/dropping/ruining so many meals in the kitchen I’ve lost count… (Once I exploded a bottle of blueberry water kefir in the kitchen and it literally looked like a murder scene with blueberry bits plastered all over the walls and ceiling…)
- Maiming/destroying my garden with tainted hay mulch (that one was just last year, ahem.)
But here’s the deal…
We’ve had these colossal mistakes because we were willing to jump in and just do it, even if we knew we’d likely fall on our face in the process. And therein lies the magic.
If you haven’t yet experienced some measure of failure in whatever you’re passionate about, you might not be trying as hard as you need to be in order to experience the success you’re chasing.
And Lord knows, if there’s one thing I do well, it’s try.
What have I learned from all these years of homesteading mess-ups? Failure is the key to success.
I like how Brian Tracy says it:
“If you want to succeed faster, double your rate of failure.”
I wouldn’t say I love failure, but I’m definitely not as scared of it as I used to be. I’m not afraid to fall on my face. I’m not afraid to mess up if it means I’m trying something new or playing big.
Now don’t misunderstand– I’m not saying I love the feeling of failure… Because I don’t. It still stings. And my face still turns red with embarrassment sometimes. But I’m not afraid to dive into something headfirst– even if that means I might have a royal mess-up in the process.
So why do I feel strongly enough about this to write an entire blog post on it?
Because nothing makes me more sad than seeing people consistently playing small in their lives because they are afraid of messing up.
Fear of failure is rampant. It shows up in homesteading, and in business… In procrastinated goals, and in abandoned hobbies. It causes dreams to remain unfulfilled and regrets to pile up in mounds. It’s paralyzing.
Last year, I came across this video by the CEO of Spanx, billionaire Sara Blakely (Spanx is a massively successful shapewear company, for those of you who aren’t up on woman’s clothing (I’m not either…)). I hit me like a ton of bricks when I first watched it… (You can watch it here– it’s only a few minutes long)
In the video, Ms. Blakely explains how her Dad taught her to celebrate failure. To look for failure and to own it. I thought about that video for days afterwards.
What if… instead of being ashamed of our failures, we own them? What if we start celebrating failures as proof someone had the guts to try in the first place. Wow. That’s radical stuff.
I’ve seen this principle so boldly manifest itself in my life, I’m determined to teach my kids to fail. It’s a wild concept in a culture that loves participation trophies and shielding kids from anything that may be “hard”… But I’ve never been very good at following societal expectations, so I suppose this won’t be any different.
And so we talk, the Prairie Kids and I. About winning and losing. About the value of try and having grit. About their mistakes, about my mistakes, about Daddy’s mistakes. We talk about how Mommy totally bombed her reining pattern at a horse show this year and how it means I just have more practicing to do (true story….). We talk about Prairie Girl practicing her cartwheels, and how many times she fell over before she finally nailed it. And sometimes, we even celebrate the try and the failure just a little bit more than the success itself.
And sometimes they have to remind me, because I forget.
The hardest part as a parent is to fight our natural urge to shield our children from the struggle. It’s so natural and sometimes it is appropriate… But other times, it steals the chance for them to wrestle and win.
A couple of weeks ago, Prairie Girl (age 6) and I were out in the barn. She’s learning how to catch her horse and tie the halter all by herself. Rope halters can be confusing, especially when they’re tangled. I stood there for a while as she fumbled with it and attempted to make sense of the wadded mess.
Without thinking, I offered, “Here, let me do that for you.”
She didn’t even turn around as she quickly replied, “NO, Mommy. I have to mess up so I can finally learn how to do this. I don’t want you to help me.”
And in that moment, I knew she is a whole lot smarter than I was even just ten years ago…
There’s one thing I know for certain: Success is so much sweeter on the heels of a failure. Sometimes it has to get darn ugly before it can get pretty. And if you quit in the midst of the striving, you miss out on the greatest reward of all.
So my dear readers, as 2017 begins, I wish you a year of lessons, adventures, and failures. And next time you have a ginormous homesteading mistake, be sure to shoot me an email to tell me all about it. I’ll be the first to give you a high five and a “way to go!”
Listen to the Old Fashioned On Purpose podcast episode #64 about The Most Important Thing I’ve Taught my Kids HERE.
Heather D. says
Amen sistah!! I say this as a mom, former homeschooler, former special education teacher, and current teacher of 24 6-year-olds. Children who’ve been allowed to struggle, and taught how to struggle in developmentally appropriate ways have greater resiliency and more advanced problem solving skills than children who haven’t. They also tend to be happier because they don’t see problems as insurmountable. I don’t have research handy to back these statements, just many years of parenting and teaching experience.
There’s an excellent book by Paul Tough (yes, that’s his name!) called “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.”It’s not written from a Christian perspective, but still an inspiring book for parents and educators. (No, I don’t have a website, blog, or affiliate link – won’t receive any recompense in any way because I’m mentioning this book except maybe the recompense of inspired parents and empowered children.)
And this applies to all children no matter their natural talents or challenges.
Yes! Yes! Yes! I have 4 big kiddos & totally agree.
Failure is sometimes the best of teachers. For our kids and us. Giving our children the freedom to fail also gives them the freedom to succeed.
If they fail, they learn & can do better next time.
If they succeed they get the fabulous encouragement and rush that comes when they make the decision & it is a glorious success. Let them spread their wings. 🙂
Jill Winger says
That sounds like an AWESOME book!
There is something with blueberry keifr….mine exploded in the dining room (and all over me) I laughed…my husband on the other hand…..I am still finding some blue specks here and there
Jill Winger says
Blueberries must be extra-explosive or something!
Kathryn Smith says
They are! We were making blueberry wine and it exploded the lid off and left a super sticky purple trail across the garage that took forever to clean up. That was a few years ago and you can still see the stain in the concrete. Just found your blog and loving it thank you…. I’m also a recovering perfectionist but love to try new things and at least give it a go.
vicki bucy says
I LOVE this article. As a recovering perfectionist it has taken me about 60 years to learn about embracing failure and the best thing you can teach your kids is failure. How more perfect than to learn if you keep at it, you will learn and perfect your skills. Thanks.
GREAT topic and insight!
? thank you for this! Such great advice for all of us!
Dani Welton says
Thank you for this great post! This resonates with me so much. Our kids aren’t going to go very far in this world without perseverance.
Yes! A thousand times, yes 🙂
Great post and very timely for our family. Thank you.
You will never know just how timely this post was for me. 🙂 thank you!
Jill Winger says
I’m so glad, Connie! <3
What a wonderful lesson to teach your children, Jill. What a wonderful lesson for us all. What a beautifully written, insightful post. Cheers, Ardith
Jill Winger says
Thanks Ardith! <3
This might be my favorite post yet! What a fantastic, timely reminder- applicable to every aspect of our lives.
Quinn Badger says
Love this. Reminds me of a post I read a while ago (http://www.dustinfife.net/blog/funnel-failure-failing/). As a failure-phobe, that’s tough advice. But so essential.
Kari Boddington says
Out of all your blogs, BTW I love them all, but this is one is one of my favorites! My children are already grown and in their late 20s and early 30s. I tried to teach my children that you don’t have to be a perfectionist right off the bat, it was brought to my attention when my youngest son’s kindergarten teacher called me up and told me that he kept on erasing his paper over and over to make it perfect. She said if you don’t get a handle on this he is going to fail in life, he needs to understand that there is a rough draft and then a final draft, think that was the most important thing anyone has ever taught me!
Most of the public schools today teach the children that no one loses everyone gets an award everyone gets a trophy I’m so afraid to see what’s going to happen to these kid IF and when they get out into the real world, expecting to win and losing instead. The public school system has set them up for failure!
My boys used to call me the mean old mom, LOL. I even had a checker at Safeway tell me I was a mean old mom because all that candy and crap by the checkout attracted my kids and I refuse to let them have any. I would tell them we already have candy it’s nature’s candy, it’s fruit!
Both my boys are now grown one is an engineer wotking at a fairly good size company, my other son is a doctor of chemistry during his post doctorate at MIT. I didn’t push them to do this they just knew it was their destiny and for that I am so proud of them and I’m so glad I didn’t cave to all the other parenting skills that were surrounding me at the time when they were growing up!
Anyway, I just want to say hats off to you! You’re doing the right thing and I know it’s harder but in the long run it’ll be easier and I’m so proud of you!
Jill Winger says
Sounds like you did a darn good job, Kari! 🙂 Thank you for being a reader!
Elizabeth L. Johnson says
Bless you, Jill and fam. This was great! and so correct!
Check out the book, “The Gift of Failure.” I think it was written by Jennifer LeHaye. This is a GREAT book that discusses the importance
of failure in children. I wish I had read this book 20 years ago.
Jill Winger says
I will definitely have to check that one out!
Deena Brophy says
John Duffy says
Failure makes you more humble and smarter!
Let those wee ones know that there are good things about making mistakes.
Jan Sullivan says
Love it! Sent it to all my kids. Hope I was never to in to the successes alone. I was more the “Did you try your best…?” Beautiful, and enjoyed the Spanx video, as well. Thank you for sharing
Jill Winger says
You’re so welcome– glad you enjoyed it!
As a fellow homesteader, homeschooler and mother, I can very much appreciate your words and advice. We have had our share of failures and successes. I am often guilty of trying to protect my children from failure, but I am learning to step back and just let it happen. It’s not easy, but it is necessary. I think my kids are actually more resilient than I ever expected and I am certain that they are probably smarter than I ever was. As parents, my husband and I try to lead by example, sometimes the example is good, sometimes it shows how not to do something. One way or another, someone usually learns a lesson.
It makes me think of one of my favorite sayings, “Ride and never fear the fall”. Sometimes you just have to jump in and do it!
Live life like somebody left the gate open!
Jill Winger says
Amen! And yes– love that saying!
Hi Jill, I absolutely loved this post!!!!! I have some perfectionistic tendencies but am not a full blown one, if that makes any sense. In some ways I’m not at all but in other ways I am. I certainly was not when I raised my 3 sons. I was way too busy just getting by lol I am continually working on it because it never leads to anything productive. As I get older I notice how the more perfectionistic one is, the less happy they are and I don’t want to be that way. I love how you mentioned abandoned hobbies. So sad but so true. My hobbies are many and I’m glad I’ve stuck with them because they give me so much joy. I’m still trying to get the hang of machine quilting but I’ll get there eventually or else I’ll go back to quilting by hand.
You are so wise! Thank you
Jill Winger says
Well said, Sue!
Ron Harvey says
I knew an old man once who said “I never learned anything by doing something right”.
Jill Winger says
I love that!
Ramona Puckett says
Thank you so much for sharing this! I’m forwarding it to my daughters, one has my two grandsons. I appreciate it so much.
Stacy Russell says
Hey, thanks for this Jill!
I know this is an older post but I came across it on Pinterest.
I have 2 daughters that we’ve been trying to teach this too.
I’ve read countless articles to them, we’ve watched videos and we point out our own mistakes, too.
This will be another article to read to them so they know we aren’t the only parents who want to teach their kids how to fail. 🙂
Richard Fasching says
We are “Fasching Farms” in Ennis, MT…homesteaders raising dairy goats, chickens, pheasants, meat birds plus gardening, etc. we are also on the verge of completing our homestead house after two years of day-in-day out building (that includes a 36’ x 40’ two story barn). We define success as “the number of times you fail, and keep trying”
We love you blog!
Jill, You’re a wonderful teacher and encourager to Moms of all ages. Reading this post brought to mind “In every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Though some have a hard time with the “every thing” of this Biblical instruction, you’ve beautifully explained how God’s wisdom applies to all of life including failures.
Failure is only a true fail if we learn nothing from it. Failure is a fantastic teacher if we don’t allow the self pity to consume us.
Kayla- Prairie Homestead Assistant says