My son was frustrated about his PE class today. "They asked us to do like, 17 different things and I was only able to do FOUR of them, Mom," he grumbled.
I gently prodded him with questions to get more of the story. They apparently attempted a variety of gymnastic-style activities like forward tumbling and cartwheels and backward rolling and hands-free back-flips or some such things.
I said, "I think only trained gymnasts can do most of those things, I'm not upset that you couldn't do them, but like your teachers, I just want you to give your best effort and try new things."
He was still surly. "Well next time they should pick some things that people can actually do!"
I struggled to keep my voice from breaking, because I've been in his shoes, and long before a "legitimate" reason cut short my physical potential. I barely managed cartwheels as a little kid, and never got the hang of tumbling, because my neck and head refused to tuck properly. And I was far too chubby far too early to ever do things like back flips and hands-free cartwheels.
"Well son, to tell you the truth, it's not a bad thing that they picked a bunch of stuff you don't know how to do. We need to learn how to fail in life. It's as important as succeeding, maybe more. Can you imagine what I'd do if I woke up unable to stand or walk and had never ever failed at anything before? That would just about be one of the most devastating things that could ever happen to me!"
Bubby watched me, guarded, waiting to see what sort of story or point I was trying to make before committing emotions. This is touchy ground for both of us; he has seen so much suffering and struggle in the past three years.
"Luckily," I said, with a little smile, "I've had lots of practice at failing things. Sure, it was still very very hard, but I was familiar with failing. I could let go of standing and walking for awhile, and focus on something else, something reachable. Like putting on my danged socks and shoes with those silly sock tools. It was so frustrating, taking 30 minutes to put on a sock and shoe! But it was possible, and doing things like that got me through while I kept failing at big things like standing and walking, until eventually I quit failing."
I could see the tension slipping away from his face, the smile trying to come out. "So as long as you tried, I don't care if you can't do gymnasticky things. I like the things you CAN do, like geology and dinosaurs and complaining about how solving for area only takes you 5 seconds." He giggled and I rubbed his buzzcut head, then rubbed it again because it feels nifty when his hair is short like that, and he laughed some more.
You can learn a lot of important things about life by failing. Not the least of which is how to get over it.