Failure is a part of
life, especially if you’ve messed up on something. Forget to study
for that spelling test, and it’s not surprising that you don’t get a
What happens, though, when you DO study for spelling and the
result is still failure?
Many children spend most of the school year failing tests,
failing classes, and flunking out, but it’s not for lack of trying.
Our twins have struggled with this from the very first day of
school. Both have been tested extensively and so we know the
underlying issues, including dyslexia, poor rote memory and
As parents, one of our toughest jobs is giving our twins the
message that struggling with school doesn’t make them a failure in
life. Resiliency and a core emotional strength are character
traits we look for in our kids. Failing a spelling test is less
difficult than losing a job or failing in a future marriage.
While America seems allergic to failure, let’s put our feelings
into perspective. We trumpet the success of a celebrity like Tom
Cruise, while hiding the fact that he’s struggled with his own
dyslexia issues. When he was a child he thought he was “dumb.”
We often read about successful entrepreneurs, like the founder of
Kinko’s, Paul Orfalea. He suffered from dyslexia and ADHD. But, it
didn’t stop him from being successful, as he describes in his book
Copy This! Lessons from a hyperactive dyslexic who turned a
bright idea into one of America’s best companies. Orfalea
learned to work around his weaknesses to turn them into strengths.
As a family, we’ve collected stories of people who’ve used
weakness to succeed. Did you know that Leonardo DaVinci, who was
incredible talented, had a problem with finishing anything? Have you
ever seen his notebooks filled with unfinished projects, ideas and
Ever watched any of the George Lucas’ Star Wars or Indiana Jones
films? Did you know he can’t spell well? Who cares? He can hire a
“speller” to translate his great stories into the films we know and
love. His buddy, Steven Spielberg couldn’t get into film school
because of his “C” average, yet he’s one of the most successful
movie directors of all time.
Have you ever enjoyed wonderful stories in the Chronicles of
Narnia? What if C.S. Lewis never felt good enough to write them down
because as a boy he was always ridiculed in school for his extreme
clumsiness? He never succeeded on the soccer field, but aren’t you
glad he had a great imagination and the skill to weave a story line?
Albert Einstein waited so long to talk that his parents took him
to a doctor to find out what was wrong with him. They were probably
horrified when he did start to talk, because he had a strange quirk
of saying a sentence out loud to himself to practice it before he
actually spoke to another person. The family maid called him “the
dopey one” and other family members labeled him as “backwards.” He
never excelled at learning languages and memorizing facts and
figures. In fact, a teacher actually told him that he’d never amount
to anything. Aren’t you glad he didn’t internalize that message and
allow it to paralyze him for his future work?
That’s why I consider it so critical for parents to read the
extensive Gallup research reported in
Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and
Donald Clifton. The authors discovered that we often focus on the
wrong things – weaknesses – when our greatest
improvements will most likely come from improving strengths. Thus,
perhaps when our child comes home with two A’s and a D, we wrongly
focus on the D rather than brainstorming ways to continue to grow in
the areas of the A’s. That is where the difficulty for parents comes
from: how to teach a child how to fail gracefully while motivating
them to grow in areas of strength so that they’re better equipped to
win in life.
I asked Paul, one of the twins, what he thought about how hard he
struggles in school, when it seems easy for other kids.
He whipped out a poem and told me that he writes poems “all the
time.” And, that’s the best part about raising resilient children.
They always surprise me.