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“What if I come last?” Why it is good to fail

Found in: Leadership Blog

I had promised the students that I would run in Tuesday’s athletics carnival. This seemed fair, as we were asking them to get involved. At the carnival, when the 4x100 metre relays were being formed, to my dismay Mr Rosolin wouldn’t let me join his fast, young teachers’ team (that’s going straight to the appraisal).

Thank you: Malena Peacock, Danni Sargent and Chelsea Whiteside for making up the team (Danni and Malena were kind of bribed; it was hard for Chelsea as, in her words: “I’m really competitive”). Well, we came last. Sorry ladies, it was mainly because of me. My main recollection of the event was trying as hard as I could while two Year 10 girls sailed past me as though I was standing still.

I didn’t fail, I tried.

Research has shown that amongst students from privileged environments, failure is not an option. There is a sense developing in contemporary society that a spotless curriculum vitae, constant praise for achievement, and unmitigated success are the keys to healthy self-worth, recognition and achievement.

In fact, the opposite is true: every new discovery, technological breakthrough and valuable new innovation is primarily the result of overcoming a succession of previous failures, followed by reassessing, rethinking, and persevering. Real success is more about breaking through than just being somehow naturally better than the rest.

The reality of failure is essential to real learning. Continuing to do things where you don’t experience or face the challenge of failure is meaningless: you are either too sheltered or just practicing.

We have a poster at our College. FAIL: First Attempt In Learning.

This is an important concept to instill in our kids. Fear of failure will cause them to shy away from learning and giving it a go. The best way for a young person to develop character is for them to attempt something where there is a real and serious possibility of failure.

Rudyard Kipling, in his poem “If” (Google it) spoke of the attributes for a child to embrace for adult character and included:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;


It is worth thinking about.

By the way, the rest of the team ran so well, especially Chelsea at the end; that if the race was only a few metres longer, we would have caught up…  Watch out primary athletics carnival, here we come…

Mr Rod McNeill