Nothing impedes success like avoidance. And avoidance from “fear of failure” is a notably crucial source of avoidance that directly threatens success. We want to teach our kids, all kids, why it’s necessary to avoid avoidance, and how to do it. And we want to teach them healthy (versus misguided) concepts of success.
Most of all we want to encourage and guide the kids in our charge to develop what I call “successful mentalities,” or “mentalities of success.” Among other things, this means teaching them the paradoxical relationship between success and failure. For instance, cultivating a successful mentality means necessarily cultivating a dare to fail mentality. Successful individuals dare to fail, repeatedly. Daring to fail means laying out, going all in, for a goal.
We must teach kids that this is success—the going for it (versus the going through the motions) mentality. Most performance anxiety, and much underachievement, stems from a dread of failing to achieve particular, desired outcomes. In our hyper-competitive culture, kids learn through conditioning to experience the prospect of disappointing outcomes as catastrophic. Avoidance then becomes their “go to” defense mechanism to circumvent this putative catastrophe.
It’s as if kids tell themselves something like, “I only really fail when I make a full commitment to something and then fail to achieve the desired outcome. Therefore, if I make less than a full commitment and fail to achieve the desired outcome, I can pretend it reflects less on my competence and adequacy, making it easier to tolerate the failed outcome.”
We can see how the fixation on outcome, specifically the dread of failed outcomes, institutes rationalized avoidance, then increasing the very likelihood of failed outcomes. Naturally, a vicious cycle ensues with great costs.
As an antidote, we must teach kids that whenever they go after an aim or goal with uncompromised purpose, with skin in the game, this is success—they are literally defining success, irrespective of outcome. Preparing them for the ubiquity and inescapability of struggle, we simultaneously encourage their cultivation of an embracing and troubleshooting approach to adversity. In doing so, we liberate them to engage the world more realistically, less crippled by performance anxiety expressed through chronic avoidance.
Along the way, we can reward them generously with positive, admiring recognition of their willingness to dare to fail, which embodies a perspective of success. Essentially, we are challenging them to learn to seek and enjoy, and ultimately relish—versus cringe avoidantly from—chances to demonstrate their powers of persistence and resilience.