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  • Chicago Psych Therapy Group

Failing Forward

Have you ever seen a baby learn to walk? It’s pretty hilarious. Their balance is totally off and they can barely stand up without becoming unsteady. They wobble around, like an intoxicated person might after a long night of alcohol abuse, and the baby’s first actual steps are hardly impressive. Yet, every parent is beyond impressed by their child’s first steps and the excitement over this accomplishment is through the roof! Why? The baby is not very good at walking yet and has basically failed to walk well. Yes, I said it: the baby FAILED. Wait a minute! That is ridiculous! What are you saying, you may ask? How can I possibly say that the baby has failed? The baby is learning to walk and part of learning is to make mistakes! We don’t do everything exactly right the first time, do we? Learning to walk, tie our shoes, ride a bike, etc. All of these milestones require us to fail many times before we are successful. Ah, yes. Now we are on the same page. We can easily understand this concept and demonstrate empathy when talking about children; however, we are much more harsh toward ourselves, aren’t we? We expect ourselves to succeed on the first try every time and set our own unrealistic expectations of success so high without allowing ourselves room to fail and learn from our failures. Failing is just another word for learning, which I like to call personal growth. Failing reminds me of school terminology, getting graded on one’s efforts and earning a letter. No one wants to receive an “F.” Most of us were taught to strive for A’s, and anything less often leads to feelings of shame and decreased self-worth. What if we changed the way that we look at failure? There is a concept called “failing forward” and it basically means that we have the opportunity to learn and grow from our failures if we choose to move forward and make positive changes using all of the experiences we have learned from, including our perceived failures. You are never a failure unless you completely give up and, here’s the good news, no one who is actively seeking mental health treatment is even close giving up! If you are recognizing that something needs to change and you are asking for what you need in order to make this change, then you are on the path to success, however you may define it! We can fail forward and be as gentle and kind toward ourselves while learning and growing as much as we would be toward a baby who is learning to walk. If you would not be critical toward a small child who is making mistakes as they learn and grow, show yourself the same compassion!


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