Monday, June 15, 2015

Epic Fail

The Talmud says that the true measure of a person can be understood by 3 things:

1.       How that person uses money
2.       What that person does when he is angry
3.       What that person does when he is drunk

I’d like to humbly suggest one more thing. Failure.

How a person responds to failure is an intriguing barometer of self esteem, confidence, and hope.

Photo Credit: Paxson Woelber
Working on succeeding is great but working on failure is really valuable because as Winston Churchill so beautifully pointed out, “success is going from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.”

If you are deciding to read on in the hopes that I will uncover secrets about how to fail well, I am not a diet plan and therefore have no expensive secrets to uncover. I may provide an approach though, a different perspective through which to view your failures.

A great man named  Rabbi Noach Orlowek, once said: “hard is not bad, it just means it takes time”.

In my parenting of my children and in my psychotherapy work with children (not the same children) I have discovered a tendency for some kids to say sometimes, “I can’t do it”. This is because they’ve tried to do something whether it be related to a therapeutic challenge, building something out of lego, or climbing a rock (or on to my car), and they’ve failed. They fall, they can’t build it, or they’ve failed to control anger yet again. I enjoy when this happens because it is a wonderful opportunity for children to build self esteem.
The first thing is to remove the word “can’t”. I tell the child, “I expect you can and you need to work on it some more in order to do so.” In therapy this often works well because I am not the child’s parent so she is less likely to argue with me or throw a tantrum. She tries another few times and maybe she gets stuck in a rut trying to do the same thing over again.

While I’m sure this line is already ringing in your ears, I will present it here anyway because it is one of my favorites. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” (This line is often attributed to Einstein but I have heard that it is a misattribution).

If she gets stuck in a rut then my job as a parent and therapist (yes there is dangerous overlap to these roles) is to help her get herself out of the rut, but not do it for her. This teaches the child that she has the ability to do it herself and it also teaches her that sometimes accepting help is necessary.

The lessons of working with children can be readily applied to our own lives. When I’ve failed yet again and I am tempted to say, “I can’t do this”, let me remember that I don’t let my children say that. When I have found myself in a rut and doing the same thing over and over again and seeing failure each time let me remember that when I see children doing this it is an opportunity to facilitate imagination and growth. Let me also always remember that it takes a great person to not need help from anyone, but one who asks for help when it is needed is a much greater person.

If you want to fail better get in touch and I'll help, but you know I won't do it for you.


  1. Ari, I can relate to your post of recommendations of how to manage failure or the I can't and do something different. At what point to you say the heck with it and accept what may not be possible?

    1. Brenda, this is a good and important question and the easy answer is that I don't know. I don't suppose there are any hard and fast rules. However, I will also invoke the name of Rabbi Orlowek again here as he has been known to quote Mother Goose, "for every problem under the sun there is a solution or there is none. If there is one, find it. If there is none, never mind it."

  2. I appreciate the wisdom of your quotes.