Recently I had the honor and joy of being in the same room with some of Kansas City‘s brightest youth and their most committed champions. Camp Fire Heartland’s annual Absolutely Incredible Kid Day® breakfast was standing room only. Why so many? I’d like to think it’s because so many care. As the program unfolded I found it interesting that each of our four speakers (three were interviewed by youth) spoke of failure as the catalyst for success.
As I reflect on the unanticipated similarity of their comments, it occurs to me that we should talk about failure more often, while taking apart the lessons failure has to teach. When we tell our kids they’re incredible when they succeed, we need to assure them they’re also incredible when they fail. Failing isn’t bad, our kids need to hear, it is simply the result of stepping up and trying something new, something hard. Our kids need to hear that many of us (adults and youth alike) don’t have that kind of courage. Yet they did.
“Failure,” as Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, Sly James, shared, “is what builds character.” We tell our kids “good job,” but we need to be especially attentive to opportunities to tell them “good try” and mean it. A pat on the back for something well done is good. But that young person who steps out on a limb only to have it break off is a young person we need to celebrate.
Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, shared the story of her mother, who went back to high school after her children were born. She wanted to model the person her kids could grow into. Dr. Lane continued by sharing her belief that encouraging youth to dream should be—as adult champions—our number one priority. Eric Wilson, the young man who interviewed her, has the aspiration to be either a professional athlete or a brain surgeon. Now that’s a big dream. Will Eric make one, or both, or neither? At this point, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we encourage him to try. By encouraging the attempt we may be setting up the failure. Yet we’re also setting a tone for living all-in, for honoring that dream above all else.
Dr. Mark Bedell, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools, not only shared his passion for the teaching profession, he shared his absolute, bedrock belief that, “Everybody can spectate. But spectators don’t win.” He encouraged every kid in the room, as he encourages every kid in his district, to “go for it.” He ended his remarks by quoting Theodore Roosevelt. Yet two phrases sum it up and fully express Dr. Bedell’s sentiments: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles…. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”
The fourth, breakfast speaker, Mindy Corporon, founder of Seven Days. Make a Ripple, Change the World , didn’t speak directly of failure, yet her eloquent words spoke a deep truth, “We need help from each other. Though we need to tell our kids that hate can be overcome with kindness, it is often our kids who are the ones that tell us to be kind.”
We must continue to tell our kids they’re absolutely incredible when they improve and succeed. Yet we must also be at their side when they stumble and fall. Because, as Mayor James also shared, “Nobody can make it through this life alone.”