What are kids really good at? Kids are really good at failing. Of course they're not trying to fail. That's not their intention. Their intention is to succeed. But they can't succeed. They can't succeed until they fail enough. And their brains know this, their brains feel it. So they fail anyway. They do their best even when their best won't be good enough, when it won't get them to where they're trying to go.

Ananda drew me a picture the other day. It's a picture of 75 small circles (I counted them). There isn't a single perfect circle. In fact, many of the circles don't even have ends that meet. They're failures. Each one an attempt to draw in one smooth motion a complete circle, and each one a failure. But she drew them anyway, without hesitation. I watched her. Circle after circle after circle. Failing, but repeating each attempt without hesitation, without frustration.

There is so much beauty in this lesson, so much wisdom. It feels hard to grasp the universality of it. Children fail regularly, so they learn and grow and get better, regularly. But as they grow older, they grow more afraid, more unsure, more critical of themselves. The hesitation sets in. They learn slower, and slower, and slower. Instead of growth being self-directed and self-motivated—instead of it being fun—it becomes occasionally motivated by the dread of an external event that might cause more discomfort than the potential failure.

For Ananda it wasn't 'failure'. For her, it was play. It was having fun. It wasn't painful, it was enjoyable. She didn't draw 75 failed circles, she drew 75 shapes that looked like circles so that she could give them to her daddy. Her goal wasn't perfection. Her goal was to try, to make an attempt, and to have fun doing it and then to be happy with the result. Her goal was simply to do something, to take the idea and add action to it, to start and then to finish. To start, and then finish.

Kind of like drawing a circle.

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  1. Good effort is it’s own reward. Deprecation is the result of seeking appreciation. When we seek appreciation we deprive ourselves of the natural inner joy that comes with energy in motion. OM

  2. Fear of failing is what keeps most of us from attempting to create works of art, whether with paint or with words. Once we get past caring about whether or not we will succeed, the fun begins!

    • Very true, Carol. For the first decade of my writing on this blog, I was not writing for anyone except myself, not trying to ‘succeed’ at anything. As a result, I kept writing and publishing (and failing and growing) as a writer. One of my big goals for 2017 is to develop habits that help me continue growing, to move past the plateau in growth that I feel I’ve hit.

      Nice to see a comment from you! 🙂

  3. It seems circles is about attachment to results. I try to love in the virtual world without attachment. We get higher and higher through this relationship until the person I am relating to makes a miss-step and we come tumbling down from the mountain my love was climbing. It would be interesting to find someone who didn’t make miss-steps, but anyways this is what happens to me when I fall from the mountain.
    Snow White makes the ultimate journey
    Well I took a big bite of the poisoned apple and am feeling myself slipping away. My intellect and ego love the taste of this apple but the poison is making the walls of this virtual reality close in on me and only a pin hole of light remains at the end of the tunnel I find myself in. That pin hole of light is the real world which I am finding myself shot into.
    I find myself falling in this tunnel toward the light like Alice falling in the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. I’m experiencing the sensation of falling with no bottom in sight. The ego and the intellect scream and conjour up images of death but the real me keeps on falling. Finally at some point God will reach out his hand to catch me and turn the lie I can’t live with into truth.
    Until that time I leave behind this empty shell until the kiss of truth brings me back.

    • We’re all falling towards death and decay—we begin dying the moment we’re born—but I choose to take the optimistic perspective that we’re living inside an opportunity, inside a slice of time in which nearly anything is possible, which makes it a beautiful life indeed. 🙂

      We’re living inside a circle, yes, the circle of life, and if we get attached to the result of that circle, we’ll miss the joy of creating it.

  4. Thank you for that very insightful post Raam! I can totally relate to failure, but what really is failure? Could it be progress at attaining your goals? A righteous man falls seven times and gets back up. a life without failure is a life that’s not worth living. My life is all about failing…until I “get it” and it’s amazing when that happens. What Ananda didn’t do that most of us adults do, is that she didn’t get frustrated, what she drew is what she drew(and that’s also perfection). Unless we become like little children we won’t enter the Kingdom of God. Is it possible to have the mindset of an innocent child and enjoy our failures(knowing that they’re for our good)? I believe it is. Perfection is not when we meet up to someone’s standards, perfection is when we give 100%. Then you can’t wait to give it to someone else.
    Thank you for our friendship Raam.

  5. When kids move past play and start to recognize their failures, it is so important to celebrate their try rather than wallow in the results. I try to encourage this in my kids all the time. I loved reading this post. I just randomly stumbled on your blog and the little I’ve read is fascinating. I can’t wait to dive into it more. I also homeschool my children and recently wrote a post about our love of failure. If you’re interested:

    • Deanna, thanks so much for stopping by! I clicked through to your site and found myself lost in exploring and enjoying all the photos and reliving in my head some of those very early days with my daughter—she got dressed all by herself this morning for the first time: underwear, pants, shirt, socks, and a hat! I was reminiscing about how it was only 2 years ago that she wasn’t even walking on her own.

      You wrote about Big Brother in the Be a Failure post: “Sometimes when he’s working on something, if it is not just so it can throw him into a spiral of I can’ts and I give ups.” Ananda does the same thing, and I’ve been doing exactly what you’re doing: encouraging failure! I tell her that the way to success is to try, and try, and try until she gets it, that failing is part of the process. I’ve been doing this for the past year and now, to my amazement, sometimes when she shows me something that she managed to build or put together, she says, “Daddy, look! I tried and tried and tried and I finally got it!” That makes me so happy. 🙂

      I’ve been looking to connect with other homeschoolers so I’m so happy you stopped by. I’ll be following your blog and digging in more. From what few clues I found on your site, it looks like you’re in Boston—I’m in Southern NH!

      • You’re just right up the road! We are in the Boston area and make our way up to NH from time to time. Maybe we can connect in the real world someday and go on an adventure with our homeschooling crew. Have you found a good homeschooling community in your area?

        • Hey Deanna, so sorry for the late response—it’s crazy how fast 2 months can go by! I’d love to connect in the real world someday—I haven’t found any good homeschooling communities, but then I haven’t really looked. If I recall correctly, I found your site when I was looking around. 🙂