2 youth who were unable to reach our meeting venue on time requested for arrangements to join the session online. We were discussing the topic of failure and they felt a need to register their thoughts on what it meant to them and how it made them feel. “Failure is when you are in a bad place and you do not even want to try to push on,” was how one participant put it. We gathered that he meant that failure is the absence of hope, the resignation that one would never taste success any which way. This resonated with another who share that failure meant that “I am not good enough, I do not match up to others, I am unworthy of love, and I do not belong!”
Strong words indeed and stark definitions that were most concerning but at the same time, we were thankful that they were being articulated in the presences of others who attached different meanings to failure. “Failure is my gentle teacher,” was a courageous definition that provoked but what we found really thought provoking was a note that read “because we are always growing, we are continually learning and there is no need to see our experiences as successes or failures.”
Failure or our belief that we have failed tends to bring forth strong emotions and participants listed anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety, uselessness, embarrassment, and shame as feelings they experienced in the face of failure. Interestingly, one participant placed her feelings in a circle and encompassed it with the qualities of compassion and curiosity. She explained that by taking a gentle and kind view of her failures, her strong feelings eased away and sometimes she could even imagine in a curious and playful way what the failures were trying to say to her.
For this young person, embodying the qualities of compassion and curiosity helped her to regulate emotions that hinder her mental health. Others present felt that a supportive environment was essential too and together, everyone painted a picture of what this looked like. Firstly, it was place where people regardless of gender could cry freely. This would go some way in giving young people the confidence to seek help from family and friends. They also imagined approachable and caring counsellors in school and a society that did not stigmatise those with mental health conditions. This was a society that updated itself on the issue and constantly reflected if its beliefs, expectations, and way of life contributed to its collective poor mental health.
The young people who came to this conversation admittedly had many experiences of failure but that did not make them less capable of envisioning what a landscape that promoted mental health looked like. Failure seems to have informed and shaped their views of a healthier place to live for all of us.
For peace, community, and lessons from failures,
It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure. ― Bill Gates