I’ve made plenty of mistakes; I’ve been fired, hoodwinked by a scoundrel and given plenty of poor advice (knowing what I know now). Due to these experiences, and dozens more, I’ve become fascinated with the concept of Failure.
I spend a lot of my time Coaching Children and one thing that’s clear is the fear of Failure takes hold easily. Why put yourself into a position where you might look stupid? Why risk the possibility of letting people down? Isn’t it better to stay in your Comfort Zone?
The sad thing is that Failure is a pre-requisite for Growth. Looking back on my mistakes, yes they were tough, but they were also precious Learning opportunities. Losing my Job made me more resourceful and creative. I now regard the experience as one of the defining moments of my Life.
My Parents are my big advantage. Unfortunately, my Mum passed away when I was 11, which meant I got an early dose of how cruel Life can be. However, it also meant that my relationship with my Dad deepened. The depth of our bond has meant I’ve been more receptive to his advice than I otherwise might have been, and something he’s always emphasised is the importance of a “can do” attitude (i.e. a Growth Mindset). “Failure is inevitable,” he would say. “It’s how you respond to failure that matters”.
A study by the University of Bath has shown that the quest for Perfectionism has grown over the last 30 years. Young people are anxious about how many Friends they have on Facebook, whether they fit in, whether their lives are sufficiently wonderful. Is it any wonder they worry about admitting imperfection, personal or academic when they are surrounded by airbrushed images and blemish-free lives in the digital World they live in? Are they so worried about being Perfect that they’re missing the fact they’re Excellent?
Children as young as seven are also worrying about exams. They’re constantly being tested, judged and labelled. They’re told, subtly and sometimes insistently by Parents, that the rest of their lives are on the line when they walk into the exam room. Parents mean well, but this is clearly adding to the pressure and undermining the joy of Education.
What to do? It’s worth remembering that the World is constantly evolving. Technology is transforming our lives at an unprecedented rate. Think tanks estimate that young people today will do at least 15 different jobs through the course of their lives, many of which haven’t even been invented yet!
In such a World, where the status quo is constantly being challenged and transcended, adaptability and variability are key. The most important thing of all however, will be resilience - the capacity to bounce back from setbacks. Because when we step into the unknown, mistakes are inevitable. Sound familiar Golfers?
This is why overcoming the fear of Failure is so important. Children are tested too much. Teachers face too much pressure from the Governors. Yes, exams are inevitable in any worthy education system, however, isn’t it healthier for young people to approach these as Opportunities rather than Threats? Isn’t it better for Children to learn skills that enable them to cope with the inevitable pressures of Life? These Skills are learnable and liberating, but are rarely taught.
Now, some might say that as a Coach I’m overstepping my remit. However, I believe my role as potentially one of the most influential figures in a young Persons Life, I need to empower them in any way I can to develop the aforementioned adaptability and variability. The fact that my vessel is Golf doesn’t make the need any less prevalent than if they were stationed in a classroom. The need is the same, I just happen to have a practical manifestation that embodies the message.
This is why my Junior Coaching Sessions at Archerfield are a voyage of self-discovery. They are a time of experimentation and fun. A rich learning experience where errors are seen as crucial not detrimental. I want Children to experience the counter-cultural idea (when framed in the right way), that messing up can be productive.
In Silicon Valley, the most successful tech companies “fail fast”. They release prototypes and software into the market early to discover their weaknesses, which accelerates their development and improvement. Michael Moritz, perhaps the most famed venture capitalist of the modern age, states: “The tech sector has grasped the power of Failure to drive success. We need that Mindset in the world beyond tech.”
Children need to understand that it’s a good thing to look stupid from time to time. That asking questions in class is cool. That speaking to a large room of people is daunting, but hugely liberating, because what’s the worst that can happen? If you forget your lines, the World keeps turning. Albert Einstein flunked his exams and Michael Jordan missed over 9000 Shots in has career, it didn’t stop them living remarkable lives.
Above all, Children need to understand that anyone that’s achieved anything of note has gone through multiple stages of imperfection. Success, is a Journey!
Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz, two Psychologists have excellent advice for those who are prone to the curse of Perfectionism:
“If I want to be a great Musician, I must first play a lot of bad music.”
“If I want to become a great Tennis player, I must first lose lots of Tennis games.”
“If I want to become a top Commercial Architect known for energy-efficient, minimalist designs, I must first design inefficient, clunky buildings.”
Failure’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, but creativity requires risk! As the World continues to become more dynamic and complex, the capacity to adapt is even more precious. I’d go as far to say that over the coming years adaptability, variability and resilience will be the most critical traits in the coming decades. Golfers, is any of this resonating?
Fail fast and Fail often. Thanks for reading!
Oliver C. Morton
The Leading Edge Golf Company