Fall Forwards and Spring Back

Fail or fall forwards, not backwards. Never give up. Two different messages that I gave children in our Whole School Assembly yesterday. My inspiration came from a film of Denzel Washington, the famous American actor, speaking at the University of Pennsylvania. His motivational speech has been viewed millions of times and certainly resonates with me.

He argues that in his life nothing has been worthwhile unless he has taken risks. This is not about taking decisions which have endangered his health or wellbeing. It relates to knowing himself and being prepared to challenge his capabilities, even if there is a danger of failure.

Perseverance is key to success. Thomas Edison had 1000 failed experiments, but we do not know him for this. He is known for inventing the light bulb, which he managed on his 1001st attempt. There are so many examples of famous people who have overcome disappointment, shown perseverance and eventually experienced success. I gave the example of “Colonel Sanders” in assembly, who had a dreadful life at times with many knock-backs but never gave up. As one of his previous employees I am pleased about this!

I know that children (and families) are finding times tough at the moment. Remote learning is a huge challenge, and I would readily forgive children (and adults) for feeling they cannot carry on at times. Where do we find the strength to continue? We have dreams of a better future, but not just dreams alone. Denzel Washington argues that dreams without goals are just dreams. We have a vision of where we want to get to and in order to get there we share it with our families. We remind ourselves of the positive times ahead and we dig deep to carry on.

The notion of failing or falling forwards is about learning from our mistakes. We often suggest having a “fall back” option, in case we fail. While this offers some comfort and safety in our future, its language suggests a direction in opposition to the intended one. In using the idea of falling back on something we are inadvertently supporting the idea of going backwards if we face challenges. Instead we should encourage children to think of failing forwards, to see “what they are going to hit” and deal with it. They need to appreciate that failure will still maintain a forwards momentum and lead to eventual success.

Young children often demonstrate a positive attitude towards risk, or at least a lack of appreciation of it. Indeed, many need to be restrained, for example, when they run towards a road or aim to scale a wall. Understandably, at some point our behaviour as adults encourages children to be more cautious and to avoid failure which could be potentially harmful. Naturally this permeates across every part of their lives and we often see older children starting to shun opportunities where there is a perceived risk of failure. Indeed many adults will admit to avoiding risk, preferring to keep the safe status quo rather than risk failure and the humiliation that may come with it.

At Yateley Manor we have created a safe environment where it is acceptable to make mistakes and fail. Better still we are often explicit about the need to make mistakes and to keep going. This certainly provides the children with the opportunity to develop resilience but also allows them to dream with goals. As Nelson Mandela once said:

There is no passion to be found playing small and settling for a life that is less than you are capable of living.

Let’s encourage our children to understand themselves, to persevere when times get tough, to take risks and use failure as another step forwards towards their goals.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.” (Norman Vincent Peale)