Is Failing Worse than Succeeding in Things that Don’t Matter?


Adults tend to think we will be the ones who teach children; after all we have the experience, wisdom, and age to back up what we know. Sometimes, however, we forget it’s like to be young. Sure “Thriller” and “The Breakfast Club” can transport us back to our youth quickly, but living life with a youthful spirit and what-have-I-got-to-lose attitude are much more difficult to revive. I have the privilege of sitting on a football field year after year listening to graduation speeches and wanted to share Haley Alain’s, Northgate’s 2015 valedictorian, speech where she encourages students to not be afraid of failure. While she is speaking to her classmates, I believe her message may be even more applicable to adults. The following is an excerpt from her speech: 

It is rather ironic that while we sit before the highest accolade we will receive to date that I choose to speak on failure. While so many before me have chosen to describe the success we will all surely find, I choose to expand on the benefits of failure. Benefit and failure are two words that are hardly ever used together. However, how are we to become stronger if we don’t first realize our weaknesses? All of our lives we’ve been taught that failure is some terrible thing and it will ruin us, but I stand to argue that failure is valuable, priceless even. Without the bitterness of failure, how will we fully understand the sweetness of success?

Our failures are proof that we have truly lived. In the words of J.K. Rowling, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.” So try at whatever you want to do, try with all of your heart to succeed. But if you fail, learn from your mistakes and remember the words of Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” So be strong and courageous. Don’t be terrified or discouraged. Be patient through trials and hope for a more joyful time, for it will surely come.

Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at the things in life that don’t really matter. But how do we know what truly matters? We’ve heard since we were little that family and good morals and love and life are all good things. But as we grew older, success and fame and money suddenly became important too. The world around us tells us that our lives are completely worthless if we are not wealthy and have a secure job and know exactly what we want to do in life. Yet I have met people who have owned next to nothing but have been the most joyful, people who have experienced bitter loss but still have a life full of boundless meaning and purpose. So how do we succeed at the things that really matter? Be different; diverge from the path of the world and travel the path less traveled. We must set ourselves apart and make a promise to ourselves that we will never settle for anything other than our full potential. Being different is scary. I’m not going to lie; it’s terrifying. But how can we ever experience the joy of walking on the water if we don’t first step out of the boat? Be different; be unique; but never, ever be anything but yourself. The amazing thing about the human race is that none of us are created exactly the same. We all have different talents and stories and physical characteristics. So why do we spend our entire lives trying to be like everyone else, when our very design is to be different?

My challenge to all of you and to myself is that we would have the courage to be different and in that to live life to the fullest. Make a difference in the world around you, read a book, paint a picture, listen to music, play a sport, be really bad at a sport you love, go for long walks, and most importantly, love with your whole heart.

When is the last time you took a risk? When have you tried something where there was the possibility that you might fail? Do you want to write a blog? Be a foster parent? Run a marathon? Change jobs? Learn how to play the guitar? These are all things I was afraid to try but did anyway, and while I did fail at one of these attempts, I accomplished four others. What is stopping you? If we are not taking risks, we cannot expect our students to take them. Furthermore, if our students are not seeing how we handle failure, they will not know how to bounce back and learn from failure. We are doing ourselves and the next generation a disservice by living a safe life.

What is one thing you’ve always wanted to try but fear has held you back? Set a plan in place today to move toward accomplishing this. 

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