Failure has to be an option!

Tal Ben Shahar often talks about this concept -That if we cannot accept failing as a natural part of the learning process, then we never genuinely learn anything new. Yet too many students – and indeed schools – frame their educational model and practices around avoiding mistakes. Failure is not an option.

 This has multiple knock-on effects for our students’ wellbeing.

  1. Perfectionism a belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. Anything less than perfect is unacceptable. This is an unhealthy belief and leads to high levels of anxiety and stress, particularly in our highest academic achievers.
  2. Disengagement -At the other end of the spectrum are those students who completely disengage from school because of their fear of failure. Lack of engagement has a direct impact in our students’ wellbeing.
  3. Risk aversion -Those students who, play it safe. These students are happy just to cruise, doing what they’ve always done with little interest in stretching themselves, again because of the risk of failure. As a result they are never genuinely engaged with what they are doing.
  4. Lack of resilience – Students who have avoided failure in school or life in general, will inevitably be faced with it at some point in their working or adult life. The question is how do you learn to be resilient in the face of failure, if you’ve never been allowed, or allowed yourself to fail?

 One top girls’ school in the UK has attempted to embrace failure by having a Failure Week. You can read about it here.

Author: Dan Haesler, he is a teacher, writer and speaker at the Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People seminar at the Gold Coast. He writes for the Sydney Morning Herald and blogs at and tweets at @danhaesler

 Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People Seminars