Why you must fail first


The student I was working with grew up in China and went to a school that inhibited confidence, diluted self expression and left her feeling shy and afraid of making a mistake. A culture that believed being wrong was worse than not attempting at all.

She was stood in front of the camera to record a short video interview. English was her second language so I acknowledged her bravery for stepping up to do this. I stood with an assuring stance and smiled supportively.

The camera started rolling and her words began to flow… but she quickly stumbled and stopped. She froze and looked at me. Expecting to feel eyes if judgement. To expect criticism. Expecting that I’d be ashamed or somehow disappointed. That she’d let me or the camera crew down.

But as her eyes met my smiling face, something changed in her. I reassured her that it was all okay.

I said something along the lines of, ‘you’re doing really well, it’s okay, take your time and have another go’. My patient and supportive presence made more if a difference than I could have ever imagined.

I was calm, we had time and I believed she’d get it 2nd or 3rd time. And even if she didn’t, that would be totally okay too.

I share this story to remind us all how the smallest actions can mean so much to other people. And how what can seem natural, normal or just what you do, can be so transforming.

As a coach, a leader, a facilitator, a parent, a teacher or anyone responsible for people’s development, creating a space for mistakes is so important. To help people to see each attempt as a stepping stone to what they were attempting to do.

I thank all my teachers and mentors for helping me develop this attitude towards failure!

‘When you make it okay to fail, you make it possible for greatness!’

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