Glass Half Full: A message of failure is not an option

Ruth Glass
Glass Half Full

In her book “Mindset: The new psychology of success,” Carol Dweck talks about the power and importance of hard work, perseverance, and the recognition that the mistakes one makes often provide the most valuable learning experiences.

One of her quotes that has always spoken most directly to me is, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

This mindset applies whatever one’s age, as we can all attest when we stop to think about it. Consider your own life and those incidents that tested your mettle as it were, pushed you to examine your values, strengths, and weaknesses, and somehow inspired (or required) you to try again.

As parents, we want our children to develop grit and resilience. In fact, those two words are among those used most frequently by parents and in current literature describing greatest aspirations for young people. Who would declare they didn’t want their children to learn how to persevere through challenge and struggle?

That said, it is especially hard to watch those very same children struggle, whether it be socially, academically, or physically. We allow our very little ones to toddle around, bang into things, plunk down, and get up again. We are more fearful as those youngsters grow.

My husband’s grandmother, who was basically afraid of life, would respond when one of our girls, learning to walk, crashed to the floor with a cheery, “Boom socker!” Had she (or we) hovered and asked if they were hurt, I am certain that tears would have erupted. Instead, the girls would look startled, recognize the message as it was intended, bounce back up, and stagger around again.

As our children grow older, “Boom socker!” moments involve greater risk. The less control we have over their lives, the more we worry. News and social media focus on the dangers beyond our homes. Life for our young people, especially adolescents, is far more complicated than when we were young.

Many feel tremendous pressure for their children to be “successful,” whatever that means. Too often, I believe, that to be supportive, we think we should focus only on accomplishments. One of the growth mindset quotations that resonates most with me, as a longtime educator, is from Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx and minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks.

“My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.” I couldn’t agree more. It is hard to watch our children struggle. If our message to them is that failure is not an option, they will choose never to try.

Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at

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