The Evolving Mind

Failure

“The credit belongs to those who are actually in the arena, who strive valiantly; who know the great enthusiasums, the great devotions, and spend themselves in a worthy cause; who at best know the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if they fail, fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” ― Theodore Roosevel

How will we invent and create if we don’t celebrate failure?

I need to relate a story to all those who are constantly chasing victories, perfect scores and success defined by others. I need to tell you it is alright and necessary to fail. Failure is the fuel that will drive you forward with renewed vigour and enthusiasm IF we celebrate failure and know what it is to strive valiantly.

The near victories, the close finishes, the two inches that resulted in a run out of a Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the World Cup are all losses. Yet, they stay with you and haunt you.

On a gusty February morning in 2018, I got 5400 students to honour the founding father of the UAE, HH Sheikh Zayed by creating a mosaic of cardboard pieces, which students would raise above their heads. All these children were aged 4 to 10 years and we were making a bid for the Guinness Book of World Records.

For six days, we practiced with the 5400 children in the hot UAE sun. The printed cardboard pieces hadn’t arrived and we made do with hastily cut pieces from cardboard cartons. The day before the event, the printed pieces arrived. It took us the whole day to sort them out and the students had a few practice sessions.

The morning dawned, gloomy and dark with strong Shamal winds whipping up the dust. Everything was in place. The guests of honour. The Press. The event coordinators and thousands of onlookers. The first attempt saw a few cards turned the wrong way. The second attempt was better but now the winds were picking up speed and I prayed that it would settle. The third was a valiant attempt; a near perfect picture with just a few cards flipped the wrong way. We were given one more turn considering the weather and the age of our children. The wind got stronger. It tore the cards from the hands of the four year olds and send them tumbling across the bus bay where we had assembled.

It was over. Disbelief took away the words from the Guest of Honour. They were in a hurry to leave with a few platitudes thrown in about how young the children were and why I should not have been so ambitious with such young ones.

I chose to address the children instead and drive home the importance of failure. Without failure, there is no experience. We are not rewarded with the cup, the victor’s medal or the world record. What we receive is experience. That is far too valuable an asset to be let go off without internalizing its worth. When you dare to dream big, the failure will appear to be huge- it might be Dhoni’s inability to reach the crease by two inches at a world cup semi-final.

Failure used well, is a tool for reflection and rebuilding. I remember the Press reporters asking me whether we would attempt the Guinness Records again and I remember my answer- “Not immediately.” We need to reflect and reassemble our thoughts and ideas. We need to learn and use our experiences well so that when the time is right again we can strive for something even bigger.

This evening as I write, hundreds of thousands of students have received their scores at the Board Examinations and while some are riding the crest of the wave and definitely need to be applauded, I am writing this for the hundreds and thousands who did not live up to a teacher’s or parent’s expectation. It is a moment for you to celebrate. You were in the arena, striving valiantly with great enthusiasm and devotion but you fell short. If you failed, you have failed valiantly and you must appreciate yourselves if no one else will. Your attempt, just like ours, deserves applause.

You must use the fuel of failure to drive you forward, to propel you into further action. Nothing that was created was made in a day. Even God took 7 days to create the world. You must create your world not only on your successes but also on your hard fought failures. Battles won and lost are both of significance for they teach you things you cannot learn without having tried. I learned that we did not have enough practice. I learned that we have to study the weather closely. I learned that with such young children 6 days of practice is not enough.

Don’t make excuses for failure. Find the reason why you failed and act on correcting it. You are your own best critic and friend and if you can look at failure squarely in the eye, you will see what you need to do to succeed.

Finally, pat yourself on the back, pick up yourselves on the inside and smile confidently for having given it your best. Don’t compare your results to your neighbour’s, your sibling’s or even your parents (Most Dads somehow talk of having done exceedingly well but can’t remember how they misplaced those report cards!) This is one examination. Life will have many more for you on the way and if you didn’t quite make the mark, you know that you are now armed with valuable experience. Meeting failure early is an invaluable asset. It prepares you for life.

I have sent out hundreds of children to these examinations and I know that in the end what counts is how you deal with that thing called failure. Celebrate it. It is even more important than success. Nothing great would ever have been invented if people were afraid to fail.

Fail, and do it valiantly. I celebrate you. Your attempt and your devotion.