Failures, set-backs, challenges, detours – call them whatever you want, but there is no shortage of messages in our society today encouraging us to embrace them.
Consider the commencement speeches of some of today's most well-known celebrities. The late Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Conan O'Brien, Ellen DeGeneres, and JK Rowling have all told graduating students tales of their toughest times and how these moments ultimately fueled their success. Their messages revolve around taking risks, falling forward, being true to yourself and persevering through difficult times.
It doesn't stop there, either - the scientific realm supports this message wholeheartedly.
A significant amount of evidence from the past half-century has shown that our ability to recover from set-backs is an essential personal quality that enables people to achieve significant goals.
Carol Dweck has pointed to the "growth mindset" - the core belief that human abilities can be developed - as the most critical factor for success in life. Martin Seligman has demonstrated how optimism – the perception that failures are temporary, specific and not due to personal flaws – is a crucial trait for long-term achievement. Angela Duckworth has identified passion and perseverance as the two most important characteristics that enable people to accomplish meaningful goals.
This combination of research and personal experiences makes a convincing argument that young people are better off taking calculated risks and learning to deal with adversity.
Yet we, as a society, are still not offering young people meaningful support in this endeavour.
We choose to promote awards like “top 20-under-20,” showing adolescents that there is no time to make mistakes if one wants to be considered a “success.”
We guide them toward "practical" post-secondary programs, rather than encouraging them to pursue their curiosities, suggesting that the safe road is the best road.
We ask for 3-5 years of work experience for what were once entry-level jobs, sending the message that young adults - by nature of their stage in life - are inadequate, and that they better not screw up, or their job may be lost.
We haven’t exactly created a hotbed for stretching the comfort zone and taking chances, have we?
These are some of the reasons that a lot of our conversations at Discover Year revolve around the failures of our committee members and mentors.
Our new gap year program is based on the belief that, in order to create a significant life for themselves, young people need to face their fears, take action and push themselves outside of their comfort zone. We demonstrate this belief by surrounding them with successful people who have made a lifelong habit of stepping out of their comfort zone.
I believe it is our duty as a community to share our greatest failures and lessons learned with the next generation. Part of this evolutionary, as we pass on information that will help ensure the species' survival.
More importantly, though, it is inspirational - to let young people know that all the successful people they see around them – and not just those on TV - have suffered through trying times and heartbreaking moments, and now look back and speak fondly of those times, connecting these moments to their path to purpose.
This series of articles will highlight the defining failures in my life to this point, as well as the invaluable lessons they taught me. I hope they inspire you - not to strive for failure, but to understand that striving for Significance means learning from failures, rather than avoiding them.
As Kevin Ashton said in his brilliant book, How to Fly a Horse, "Nothing begins good, but everything good begins. Everything can be revised, erased, or rearranged later. The courage of creation is in making bad beginnings.”