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Part 2 of One Essential Skill You’re Probably Not Teaching Your Kids

August 16, 2019

(If you didn’t get in on Part 1 of this, check it out here: One Essential Skill…)

Learning how to fail successfully a huge and useful skill  (I’d even say essential) for living a life that stretches toward potential and fulfillment.  But it’s a skill that not many people actually learn.

I offered three opening steps for teaching your kids how to fail successfully in Part One of this mini-series: talk about failure observationally, establish the function of failure, and once you’ve identified the failure and its function, stop doing it.  It’s not rocket science, really, but no one taught me this stuff when I was a kid.  If you had a teacher for it, you should thank God every day for putting that person in your life.

These three opening steps for teaching (and learning) how to fail successfully aren’t the totality of this skill, but if you start here, you can build on them for a deeper and even more effective run at what life sends your way.

Here’s how I recommend you build on these three opening steps: look for what may have worked in the failure.  Another way to say this is harvest any good from the failure.

There’s an old story about a farmer who had a peach tree in the back yard.  It produced a healthy crop of peaches every year.  One year when the branches were bending under the weight of a new crop, he asked his son to pick the peaches so his mom could can them.

But before the son could get the peaches picked, a storm blew through.  A gust of wind broke a peach-laden branch off the tree.

When the wind and the rain stopped, the boy went out to pick the peaches.  The broken branch lay in the wet grass, with hardly a peach off of it.  But when the boy looked closer, he saw why the branch had come down in the storm.  It had rotted from the inside.  The outside looked like a normal peach tree, and it had produced good fruit, but the tree was dying.

“Dad,” he said, “you better take a look at the peach tree.”

Dad inspected the fallen branch and where it had split from the tree, and stepped back.

“What do you think we should do?” the son asked.

“Well, we’ll harvest the fruit and burn the wood.”

That’s what I’m talking about here.  Harvest the fruit and burn the wood.  Take anything you can from the failure – the fruit.  But don’t keep the wood, the failure itself.

In lots of families, the wood stays in the front room where everybody sees it regularly.  Failures are rehashed and recalled and rubbed in.  There’s usually no real humor in the retelling, either, even if everybody else laughs.  Just the ever-present wood of failure that gets pointed to over and over again.  It’s just one click from there to the person who experienced the failure being tagged a failure.  And the grinding wheel of shame starts turning and turning and turning.  Relentlessly.  Endlessly.

Most failures carry at least a little fruit.  You have to look hard to find it sometimes, but it’s probably there.  So look for it.  What is there here that can be built upon?  Is there anything at all that is worth remembering for the future?  Is there anything here that might work in a different situation?

There are failures that are so profound there’s really no fruit in them.  I know.  Been there, done that.  At the very least, though, there’s what I call the Edison effect in these overwhelming failures.  At least I know one thing that doesn’t work.  No need to go down that dead end again.

The great advantage of harvesting the fruit and burning the wood is that the wood of the failure doesn’t have to get in your way.  When you or your kid is able to burn the wood, you can do what the Apostle Paul wrote about in Philippians 3:13 & 14. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

It’s hard to press on meaningfully to a better future, toward the prize for which God called you, when you’re dragging the wood of past failures around with you.

So teach your kids how to harvest the fruit and burn the wood.

This fits in the Show and Tell bucket.  You tell them how to do this.  You have to give some direct verbal instruction on it.  But you can’t stop there.  You have to show them what this looks like.  The power of your example is unexaggeratable (I know, that’s not even a word).  You can’t exaggerate the power of your example.  It will virtually always trump your words.

I once heard that kids nearly never remember what you say, but nearly never forget what you do.  I’d say that’s true about 99.9999% of the time.

The question, then, becomes, “How do you deal with failure?”

Don’t beat yourself up with the question.  That’ll only foster more failure.  Just take a good look at your life and decide what you can do to model failing successfully more effectively for your kids.  That’s a mouthful.  And it’s maybe the biggest challenge I can throw.

This is not a solo act, though.  You won’t be able to pull it off all by yourself.  And you don’t need to try to tackle this alone.  You spouse and your kids can partner with you.  You’ll have to ask them for this, and that will probably mean swallowing your pride and admitting that you need their help, but the short-term pain pays off in long-term gain.  

You’re in a partnership with God, too (a 4-way partnership between God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and you).  Nobody wants you to learn how to fail successfully more than God does.  So lean into this partnership.  God wants to answer your prayer for grace to learn and model this essential skill.

Harvest the fruit.  Burn the wood.


From → Marriage, Parenting

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