By DR PRAGYA MATHUR KUMAR :
There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve; the fear of failure. Those who have never failed hardly know how sweet the taste of success is! It is after one has fallen, failed and been down and out-that success becomes a virtue worth the chase.
When a child is born, the only source of security and survival are the significant others around him.The grown ups have to take care and ensure no harm comes to the little one.The instinct to protect the offspring is very strong and parents even in the animal world go to great lengths to keep their babies safe. There are so many videos on the net of animal mothers risking their own lives to protect their young ones.Yet, beyond a point; this parental behaviour must give way and is replaced by a different mode of parenting. There comes a point when the mother bird starts changing her approach towards her new born babies and switches to a different mode. Knowing fully well that the main source of motivation for the baby is food, slowly the mother bird stands farther and farther away from the nest with the food. The baby bird realises the need to make an effort and reach out; going beyond the comfort zone in order to get what it wants-food.
Falling down initially, the baby bird eventually learns it can ease the fall by spreading its wings out. Thereafter, every time it falls it learns to ease the fall by flapping its wings more often. The result of not falling down becomes a positive reinforcement. Weaning is a critical stage wherein a bird learns to eat on its own, develops important social skills for staying with the flock and transitions from being a baby to an adult. Birds are trained by their parents through the power of reinforcement. Flying takes practice and the ability to overcoming failures. Lesson learnt. ‘Explore the resources within you; you can ease a fall and even learn to fly’. If the ‘bird brained’ mother can help her baby to find self belief and learn from failure, why can’t human parents do the same? Mother Nature and the wild have valuable lessons that can teach human parents the value of a fall before rising, the readiness to accept failure before succeeding. The mother giraffe is quite another kind of mother!
The baby giraffe falls from its mother’s womb, some eight feet above the ground. It lies still and seems too weak to move. The mother giraffe demonstrates her affection by lowering her neck lovingly to lick her baby and give comfort. That’s not where she stops though. As the baby lies curled up, the mother lifts her leg and kicks the baby sending it flying and tumbling down to the ground. She repeats the manoeuvre till the baby giraffe learns to stand on its feet. Well aware that only the fittest will survive, she gives the standing baby another kick and it falls. This goes on till the baby begins to recover quickly and stand up...finding the strength in its own legs.The mother knows unless her baby quickly learns to stand and run with the pack, it will fall prey to predators in no time. Wise mother.
Teaching her little one a crucial life skill: the ability to pick oneself up and get back on one’s feet after every fall. Kicking her baby and pushing it out of the comfort zone is the mother’s way of ensuring its survival even in her absence in the days to come. In sharp contrast,we can see human mothers carrying school bags till the bus arrives; giving their kids all the things they ask for and want...without any accompanying effort to earn them; pampering them till they are almost adult -without a good reason. Trying to protect our kids and keep them safe is a fair parental duty. However, there is a line that needs to be drawn. Punishing, blaming and embarrassing a child who has failed often becomes a defence mechanism for parents who feel guilty about the poor performance of their offspring in academics or any other sphere of activity. Human parents often oscillate between ‘no fail zone’ to ‘shame you failed’. Getting tied to negative emotional outcomes, failure becomes a bane. Kids grow up believing it’s okay not to try and not fail...but not okay to try and fail. Failure brings shame.
And this is the beginning of ‘clipping their wings’. Not experiencing failure can also lead to a sense of entitlement where there is no room for things that ‘don’t go my way’. Resilience, agility to learn and grit...are the very foundations of rising to shine and find success eventually. If the birdie didn’t get a chance to explore how flapping its wings can arrest a fall, if the Mother Giraffe didn’t kick it and make a standing baby fall...would they ever become fit enough to find their own strength to survive? Self discovery is a bumpy road...one that passes through bad patches and shrinking zones. Parents who leave room for failure are like the Mother bird.They know their kids need time to discover what will bring them the desired results. Failures are indeed stepping stones to success. School grades are not predictors of how far one can go and how much one is capable of doing. At best,they are achievement tests that limit themselves to assessing learning in a specific contest. Google chief Sundar Pichai recently took to a social networking platform to compliment Sarafina Nance, an inspirational astrophysicist now researching supernova who had scored 0 on her quantum physics paper four years ago and had contemplated the need to ‘quit physics’.
There is an important message for both -students and parents - ‘grades don’t mean you’re not good enough to do it’. The emotional burden of having failed must be replaced by a positive sentiment and a ‘never say die’ spirit. It is interesting to note that even some employers are now looking at the past history of prospective candidates with a changed perspective. The willingness to learn comes easier to those who have experienced failure and want to taste success. As Alibaba’s Ma told an audience in Nairobi, “If you cannot get used to failure-just like a boxer-if you can’t get used to (being) hit, how can you win?” In India, the board exams as well entrance exams loom large like monsters on the path of aspirants.
Fear of failure becomes so overwhelming that it often begins to impact the effort in a negative way. Stress and negative emotional states combine to make failing the worst kind of curse a student can think of. There are stories galore of nervous students giving up on life because they were not ready to accommodate any possibility of failure. Many of those who found success in life, had to deal with failures initially. In the words of Paulo Coelho: There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve; the fear of failure. Those who have never failed hardly know how sweet the taste of success is! It is after one has fallen, failed and been down and out-that success becomes a virtue worth the chase. There is great responsibility on the shoulders of parents and teachers too.While they must encourage students to give their best in terms of effort and leave no stone unturned; they must also understand success cannot be guaranteed by the aspirants efforts can. Students can promise to give their best...but can’t promise great results.The outcome is not in their hands.
The ‘self inflicted season of stress’ is around the corner. Students appearing for the board exams are walking the tight rope.Those appearing for the entrance exams for various professional courses are also losing sleep over an uncertain future . Defining success by confining it to merit lists that are splashed all over once results are declared. must become a thing of the past. If this country wants to become home to those who dare to tread the unfamiliar path, to explore worlds where no one has gone before, to innovate and create things that are new ...it has to get rid of the resistance to failure. Starting at home, parents must step back and stop going full throttle in pushing the kids to succeed only. Flapping the wings is a part of learning to fly....as is falling off the nest.
Let us give the kids a fair chance. Let them fall before they learn to rise. Let them fail before they find success. Patience is the key. Those who search without fear of drowning... find pearls. Kabir wrote ...Jina khojaa tin paiyaan,gehere paani paith; Main bapuna boodhan daraa,raha kinaare baith. Those afraid to fail will often grow old without achieving anything worthwhile. Lessons from the mothers in the wild are precious examples for parents today. If we give the kids enough time and space to figure out what works for them and what doesn’t, they will arrive at a fairly comfortable ‘self understanding’. Equipped with an awareness of their own needs, values, abilities and self belief...children can achieve their true potential. All they need is positive reinforcement and patient support during the period when they are testing how strong their wings are and keep falling off the nesttime and again.
Mahakavi Vrinda gave us a source of inspiration through a beautiful couplet that is as meaningful and relevant today as it must have been in his own time-Karat karat abhyaas ke, jadamati hota sujaan...,Rasari aawat jaawat te,silpar parat nishaan. With diligence and dedication and continued effort, even the toughest of tasks can be accomplished. As students prepare for a season of exams, both the boards and entrance, it is the responsibility of their well wishers to give them a positive environment and motivation to give their best. The journey doesn’t end at any milestone. Self growth is a lifelong process and failure and success are both two sides of the same coin. Resilience is what keeps winners inspired to treat failures as stepping stones. As Swami Vivekananda said: Awake, arise and stop not...till the goal is reached...! (The author is a Psychologist & [email protected] Ankuran)