The Freedom to Fail

Palmer here! ????

I have a question for you. Can you think of a moment in your life that was a catalyst for your confidence? A moment where you thought to yourself…

“Wow, I’m actually more capable/strong/smart/brave than I thought!”

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” 
― Brene Brown

This past weekend, my wife and I were volunteering as judges at a DECA competition in Vail, Colorado for my old high school. If you don’t know what DECA is, it’s a high school program for students interested in business.

As we got our judging packets from the team running the event, I saw some of my old high school teachers and to my surprise, got very anxious. I really enjoyed and thrived in college and am loving grad school, but something about being in that high school environment set off some alarms in my body. Most of my childhood, I struggled in school and found very little success outside of gym class. ???? I had next to no confidence in my ability to succeed academically. The only things I felt good at involved creating mischief. ????

As I sat across from these high school students as they stepped out of their comfort zones to prepare and deliver on-the-spot sales pitches, I was brought back to myself as a high school student who competed in this same competition.

When I was a senior in high school, I delivered a sales pitch that landed me in 3rd place at districts. I remember being completely shocked. Me? I got anything but near last place? I succeeded at this? I am capable of doing something school-related WELL?

That was a catalyst moment for my confidence: competing in DECA.

While standardized tests and homework assignments and note taking were not my strong suit, this moment made me realize that I had other unique, valuable qualities that I could bring to the table.

As I reflected on this over the weekend, it made me think about all of the tweens and teens who struggle with confidence, just like I did. Finding moments of success like I did at DECA was monumental for me to build the courage and confidence to keep trying new things. I began to learn that I could find areas of strengths in places I used to only struggle. The same kid who had a hard time passing classes in middle school and high school graduated summa cum laude from undergrad and is now at the grad school of his dreams. My intention for this isn’t to just share my journey of change, but to highlight how impactful even just one or two catalysts for confidence can be for a kid.

So, what can you as parents do to help your kids reach their catalyst moment?

  • Gently push them to try new things.???? The reason I even signed up for that DECA competition was because I grew up in a family where it was always encouraged to try new things and step out of your comfort zone. Not only did my parents gently push us consistently to try new things, they also lived by example.
  • Give them the freedom to fail. ???? This is a big one. Without the freedom to fail, I would have been paralyzed by inaction. There is a fine line between parent pride and excitement for your kid, and pressure. Give your kids the freedom to fail and be proud of them in their successes and failures.

I recently read an article that talked about how Sara Blakely’s father would ask his kids at the dinner table each night, “What did you fail at today?” He knew how valuable it was to take risks and try new things. He knew that if they weren’t failing, they likely were staying in their safety zone and not being stretched.

This is not always easy to do and when your kid tells you “no” for the 10th time about joining some new activity. I hope these two approaches help you create space for your kiddo to find their confidence, and know that it may take a whole lot of time and consistency. But it is worth it. ????

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Palmer Skudneski
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