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Embracing Failure

When was the last time you watched a child learn to walk?

Last week, I spent some time in an exam room with a 12-month-old patient and his parents. While the adults talked, the baby toddled back and forth between his mother’s chair and the exam table. Each time that he journeyed across that 4-foot span, he would teeter – belly thrust forward and arms spread wide – for a step or two, wobble, and then plop down to the floor. A toothless grin would light up his face and then he’d be up again.

As a pediatrician and mother, I’ve observed many, many children toddle and fall. I always find it amusing, but I was struck by a few things during this visit –

Falls don’t have to be upsetting. The joyful surprise on this baby’s face each time his diapered tush hit the floor made this clear; he was not the slightest bit distressed.

Falls do not have to stop our forward progress. It was simply a given that the baby would get back up and try again.

Falls are an inescapable part of learning. This baby clearly didn’t think he’d “never learn” to walk because he fell; falling was simply part of the process.

These assumptions come naturally to children. Yet, as we age, we begin to view falls (and failure) differently. Fails are upsetting, fails mean we should give up, and fails are no longer recognized as an essential part of learning.

I set some big goals for myself in 2023; goals that are requiring me to learn new skills, to experiment, and to act despite uncertainty. Failure is an inevitable part of that process.

So, I am choosing to follow the example of the toddler learning to walk, and to embrace failure.

How do you view failure?

If your view needs a reframe, I can help. I coach busy physicians to feel more balanced, more joyful, and less overwhelmed, so that they can build their dreams & achieve their goals. I’d love to work with you.


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