Regret, Dying and Helping Our Kids Embrace Failure
Published on July, 22nd 2018
By Greg Wells
In 2009, Australian Bonnie Ware was a budding author and songwriter. She also happened to have spent close to a decade working as a palliative care nurse. That year, she wrote a blog post reporting on things that her terminally ill patients wished they had done differently. The post went viral, changing her life and leading to her international bestseller Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
When Ware interviewed people on their deathbeds, they shared regrets like, “I wish I had the courage to live a life that was true to myself;” “I wish I had spent more time with friends and family;” “I wish I had expressed my true feelings more;” “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard;” and “I wish I’d pursued happiness.”
The regrets of these terminally ill patients offer us an important opportunity to shift our perspective on failure.
There is some really interesting data showing that when people experience a profound trauma, failure or loss, they tend to launch on one of two trajectories. They either enter a growth phase or they fall into a negative trauma phase. One of the main factors in determining which direction they go is their perspective on failure.
For those who believe that failure and trauma are terminal – incidents that can never be overcome – it is typical to sink into loss and the belief that you cannot find a way out. Alternatively, for those who genuinely see these events as setbacks, even when they are huge, a growth phase is initiated. Those are the people who emerge from a crisis with renewed clarity about their priorities. They grow closer to friends and family. They say, “I know who I am now. I have a new sense of purpose. I can focus on my dreams.”
Because we will all experience loads of setbacks in our lives, I am a big advocate for working with children to build a healthy perspective on failure.
My wife Judith and I have two kids: Ingrid, 7, and Adam, 3. In the last few months, we have been paying a lot of attention to how they navigate failure, especially with Ingrid who is old enough to be self-conscious when she falters. We try to set up a loving, supportive environment where our kids view failures as normal and acceptable. Meanwhile, we emphasize that failure creates valuable opportunities for learning.
When we work with our kids to deconstruct an incident, we focus on helping them take responsibility, own their decisions and understand how things went off the rails. That way, they are empowered to decide how they want to proceed. We have found that this approach gives them a sense of purpose as they return to whatever it was that didn’t go so well.
It is really important that children learn to be true to themselves and can figure out what they believe in at an early stage. When they do, they can get on with living a life that won’t end up clouded in statements that begin with “I wish I had….”
I hope you enjoyed this article!
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