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Appraising failure meaningfully: Can we embrace winning and failure alike?

Garima Garg has a Masters degree in Applied Psychology and has earned her Diploma in Transactional Analysis (UK) and Diploma in Stress Management Consultancy (UK). Garima is a Registered Radical Living Coach (US) and has worked as a Forgiveness Therapist and Mindfulness Educator. She presently works in Mansukhbhai Kothari National School, Pune, as PGT Psychology and School Counsellor.


“Mummy I got a note today in my diary. We have sports day,” said my son as soon as I walked home. I could see joy on his face and fun rushing into his eyes. Out of curiosity, I asked, “so what do you do on that day?” to which he replied “we play and enjoy. I love running”. I was glad to hear those words. He didn’t mention about competition or events, all he mentioned was about how he feels when he is fully engaged in play. Right now, for him, there is nothing like competition, it’s just pure play.

During the event, I overheard a conversation of a child and parent:

Child: Dad, she is running so fast, will she win?

Dad: Yes, if she will put efforts, she will surely win.

Child: So, if I put efforts, I will win too?

Dad: Yes 100%, no one can stop you from winning, you will win. You are meant to win.

After listening to this conversation, my mind started churning as a result of which some questions came to my mind.

What is the meaning of winning? Is winning equal to success? Do we always win when we put 100% efforts? What is our 100% efforts? Does only the outcome evaluate my input efforts or is there something deeper? And most importantly, What if, even after putting all my efforts I still fail and still don’t succeed? Can it happen? Does it happen?

How should I feel then? What should I tell myself? How should I deal with my feelings of insuf­ficiency? Unfortunately, no one taught us that.

Since childhood, we adults teach our children (which is again a result of our conditioning) that if you will put efforts, you will succeed. We teach them how to win by teaching them appropriate strategies and attitude. Nothing is wrong in teaching children how to win. I am not against winning. Of course, we all should win. Problem emerges when we remain so preoccupied in teaching how important it is to win that we never teach our kids what to do when we experience failure.

What to do when we fail, even after putting best efforts? Do efforts guarantee success? What is success? We teach children how to win but do we teach them how to feel when they fail? Do we ever teach them how to face failure? We always teach them how to win, to succeed, to move forward and achieve what they want. But do we ever teach them that there will be times in our lives when we will not get what we aim for? Do we ever prepare them for that?

All we teach them is how to win but we never prepare them how to deal with one’s failures. Putting full efforts may result into high chances of winning (Is this always true? Maybe, maybe not).

Have we all not experienced moments in our lives where we worked really hard, but still failed? There will be times when even after putting suf­ficient efforts, we will experience setbacks in the forms of failure. These failures are essentially inevitable and sometimes even beyond our control but how we respond to them, how we decide to perceive them and what do we do when we experience them, are completely in our control. How I am appraising my failure will determine the next course of actions I should take to achieve my goal.

Failures are not something to be feared of but something which need to be accepted and understood gracefully and meaningfully.

How to teach our kids to deal with failures?

I believe we need to learn to appraise failure meaningfully. It means-

• Understanding that failure is OK and an inevitable part of our journey.

• Rather than giving importance to ­final product (winning), we start enjoying the process, whatever we engage in.

• Find meaning in the process than just focusing on winning.

• Perceiving failure as a learning experience.

• Applying new learning and constructs.

I believe that the meaningful appraisal of failure is itself a sign of a success.

If we don’t enjoy the process and focus just on winning, then failure would just repel us even more. On the other hand, even after experiencing failure, if we have had enjoyed the process of being involved in it, then there are more chances that we would engage in similar tasks again. Hence, it increases the level of persistence and perseverance, which are important determinants of success.

For young kids, it’s not winning but the process which is important and joyous. We need to encourage them as well as ourselves to start enjoying the process. If we enjoy the process, we would not be repelled by the failure.

This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine January 2021 edition.


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