In praise of second chances by Jennifer Ramm

Failure, in its simplest form, can be defined as ‘a lack of success’ – but would this still apply if a failure leads you onto greater things? Should we be doing more to instil the idea that failing is valid, and sometimes necessary?

We live in a mesmerizingly diverse world; each and every family will weave different morals and beliefs into their children’s lives, taking inspiration from religious teachings, and the social attitudes they are exposed to. For some parents, anything except top grades and peak performance is unacceptable. To put it simply, a parent’s job is to ensure their child succeeds, but sometimes this goes too far and creates an immense amount of pressure, a fear of failure. For some people, perfectionism can be the origin of their unhappiness. There isn’t enough space created for failure in our competitive, fast-paced society, and I think the issue with this is that it begins in childhood, and what we teach children about the very concept of failing. It is a necessary component for success, even if it doesn’t always feel this way.

‘A blessing in disguise’

On a personal note, I have just finished my Level Three BTEC in Creative Media Practice, and I’m moving on to study Journalism at degree level. This was my second option, after I wasn’t able to do A-Levels after all: some may consider this a ‘failure’, but I see it as a blessing in disguise. School often teaches us that life is a linear path, with all the jigsaw pieces perfectly slotting together. I think it’s vital that young people know that they have so many options in life and will get second chances if things don’t go the way they initially hoped, which is why we should destigmatize the concept of failure. 

Leaving sixth form felt like a huge risk, especially as I’d worked towards it for so long. At the time, it was effortless to fall into the dark mindset that I’d failed not only myself, but my parents and teachers too. I suppose the root of this issue is that still, after we learned how drastically the pandemic impacted the mental health of young people, there isn’t enough guidance for them in navigating their problems. 

I feel that schools are lacking one-on-one emotional support, and as failure can create a host of complex emotions such as shame, guilt and anxiety, implementing this would help a lot of children and young people. I can appreciate that schools are stretched enough as it is – but it could be something to consider moving forward. It’s more beneficial for a child’s developing mind to learn to associate failures with opportunity. I always struggled with Maths, and if I didn’t pass a test, it shouldn’t have been a heavy burden on my shoulders or determined my self-worth; it should have been a chance to grow, to understand the subject better. 

‘Encourage forward thinking’

The growth mindset, at its core, provides comfort and reassurance, rather than the harmful black and white thinking of a fixed mindset (either I’m good at something, or I’ve failed at it). I believe teachers and parents ought to ask, ‘what did you learn from this?’ and ‘what would you do differently?’. These kinds of questions encourage forward thinking, a progressive mindset in which you willingly embrace change – we could all facilitate this.

The Epic Fail Project lightheartedly showed children that it’s okay to fail, and as a matter of fact, it can move you onto something better. By exploring accidental creations such as penicillin and the microwave, and playing around making up useless inventions, it became clearer to the children involved that your first try doesn’t have to be your best. 

The great thing about creative projects like this is that they teach core values and important messages in a way that is accessible for everyone. Theatre, and other art forms, make heavy topics (like failure) easier to cope with, breaking down their components, making them easier for children to accept and digest. Through utilising joy-inducing mediums such as song, dance and even putting pen to paper to explore failure, we begin to make breakthroughs in teaching children that it’s okay to not be perfect.