• Kristen Miller

Failure is just the beginning...


I've had a lot of conversations with people about failure. There is a 13-year old young woman I have been privileged to work with for the last several months, who I've been told was drastically different the previous year. The way she was described was constantly getting in fights, getting kicked out of classes, and ultimately failing any and all classes she did show up to. When I began working with her, I could instantly see what a special young woman she was. Even though she had a tough "don't mess with me" exterior, she was (and still is) one of the most caring, compassionate, intuitive and empathetic people I've ever known.

She maintained straight failing grades in all of her classes for the majority of the first semester in school this year. But part of the way through after she & I had COUNTLESS conversations about how smart she was, she decided to start putting effort in, and she began succeeding. I remember one day specifically she had several weeks of success in a row (which was a feat in itself), then without warning did a complete 180-degree turn, and decided she was done and ready to quit putting in anymore effort.

I was intrigued and had to get to the bottom of this - how could she have experienced such success, only to shut down after experiencing this success? It didn't make sense to me...

So I asked questions...

a lot of questions...

...and we ended up getting to the root of the issue.

Somewhere along the way in her education, she began to see herself as stupid. The material in her classes began to get more challenging, and she equated her not understanding the material with her being stupid and a failure. This crippled her self-esteem - she was devastated and incredibly hurt by feeling like a failure, so she built a wall and tough exterior to show the world that she "wasn't stupid," she just "didn't care." In her mind, she was okay with "failing by choice." It was less painful for her to "choose to fail" rather than to put a lot of effort in, only to find out that she may not understand, and end up with a low grade, and be considered stupid and a failure.

Once we figured this out, I convinced her to head back into class and put some effort in again. It was incredibly scary for her, but she did it. She ended up passing most of her classes at the end of the semester, and we are hoping this trend continues through the rest of the year.

Failure is scary. I have failed more times in life than any sane person would view as acceptable. Here is what I have learned from failure:

  • It's painful (both literally and figuratively)

  • It can be crippling

  • It thwarts self-esteem

  • It leads to incredible beauty and success

  • It leads to new beginnings

In the last ten years I have experienced what I would consider three life-altering "failures" (or so society would view them). What I can unequivocally say about each and every one of these "failures" is that on the other side of the rock bottom "I'm never going to survive this" feeling, has been incredible beauty, strength, success, and new beginnings.

Sometimes in life we get so good at trudging along that we miss our purpose, and life has to throw us some curve balls in the form of "failures" or challenges, or transitions, to get us back on the right track, toward our right purpose.

What failures have you experienced that have ultimately led to success?

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