I hate to fail. Really, I hate to fail. In fact, I abhor it so much that sometimes it keeps me from taking advantage of the resources I have at hand. Sometimes, for example, I refrain from delegating because I want to be sure something is done right. (Assuming “right” equals my way.) I don’t like to fail, so I don’t give others room to fail.
The problem is that a person has to have room to fail in order to have room to grow. Room to fail brings with it the opportunity to explore new and different ideas, to approach problems from a different perspective, to find creative solutions to complex challenges. Having room to fail keeps us moving forward because it lets us try new things.
I wrote about the importance of having room to fail months ago. Apparently, however, it is a lesson I haven’t fully learned, because every time I see this principle in action, I stand in awe.
Case in point: my recent trip to France.
On the morning after our first night in Paris, we woke up to find that we had slept through the hotel’s breakfast hours. Not wanting to squander any more sightseeing time with our Parisian family, I considered my options. I didn’t have a lot of choice if I wanted to meet my cousin at the appointed time, so I handed my son a 20 Euro note and told him to find a bakery and bring back three croissants.
Yes, my son is thirteen years old. He doesn’t speak French, this was his first time in Paris, and he didn’t know his way around the busy Place de la Republique. As soon as he walked out the door, I wondered what the heck I had been thinking. There were so many possibilities for failure in this equation, not the least of which was that he could get lost and I’d never see him again. Oh, help me!
When my son returned twenty minutes later with three croissants, the change from my twenty, and an air of self-reliance I hadn’t before seen in him, all of my doubts vanished. He had done it! Not only did I have my breakfast, but my son also gained the confidence of knowing he could handle the basics in a foreign country, all by himself. And even more than the successful outcome, the faith in him that I demonstrated by sending him out alone boosted his countenance to a degree I hadn’t anticipated. I make a lot of parenting mistakes, but I think I hit a home run this time.
Here’s the thing. When you give someone–including yourself–room to fail, you also invite the possibility of wild success. You have to give someone wings before he can fly.