William Zinsser, author of Writing About Your Life, included in his book a quote from a magazine article he wrote for Look Magazine in 1967 regarding failure:
We need mavericks and dreamers and dissenters far more than we need junior vice presidents, but we paralyze them by insisting that every step be a step up to the next rung of the ladder. Yet often the only way for boys and girls to find their proper road is to take a hundred side trips, poking out in different directions, faltering, pulling back and starting again.
“But what if we fail?” they ask, whispering the dreaded word across the generation gap to their parents, back in the Establishment. The parents whisper back, “Don’t!”
What they should say is: “Don’t be afraid to fail.” Failure isn’t the end of the world. Countless people have had a bout of failure and come out stronger as a result. Many have even come out famous. History is strewn with eminent dropouts, loners who followed their own trail, not worrying about its unexpected twists and turns because they had faith in their own sense of direction. To read their biographies is exhilarating, not only because they beat the system but because their system was better than the one they beat.
I am raising twin teenage boys who begin high school this year. The next four years will supposedly prepare them for college. We assume that at the age of 18, they will make the right decision on what they want to study and choose as their profession for the rest of their lives.
I know the odds of easily transitioning from education to profession are slim and I welcome any advice I can soak in during the next decade of my kids’ lives to help them navigate those tough times. I did not expect Zinsser’s advice to appear in a book teaching people how to write about their lives but there it is.
Zinsser reminds me to be the kind of parent that encourages my boys not to be afraid to fail rather than telling them “Do not fail”.
I ran a few failed businesses following college but all have taught me things that allow me to be the skilled employee I am today in my current profession. I must remember those failures when my boys begin to seek out their opportunities.
I want my kids to take calculated risks and not be afraid to fail. I also want to be there for them when they do fail and encourage them to get back up, start again and see what life brings them next.
Thanks Mr. Zinsser for the parenting advice.