We have been looking at how little we are taught about how to handle failure, disappointment and discouragement in our lives. In the previous blog post I gave my personal experience of this.
There would appear to be no school curriculum, or learning syllabus, as far as I know, entitled ‘How to cope with Failure.’
Through most of my life I have feared failure, misunderstood failure and been unprepared for failure.
However, over time and coming to work as a psychiatrist I have come to realise that my experience is far from unique.
The extreme end of not coping with failure is suicide. Here is how the author Simon Sinek (who interestingly describes himself as an unshakeable optimist and whose TED talk Start with Why is the second most popular TED talk of all time) puts it in his book “Leaders Eat Last”. He is talking about my generation known as the ‘baby boomers’ (born approximately between 1946-1964) :
“Disappointed and disillusioned, baby boomers are killing themselves in greater numbers than ever before. According to a 2013 study by the Centres for Disease Control, suicide rates among Baby Boomers rose nearly 30% during the last decade, making suicide one of the leading causes of death in that age group, behind only cancer and heart disease. The biggest jump in suicides was among men in their fifties – this age group experienced a whopping 50% increase. With the increase of suicides among Boomers, more people die of suicide than from car accidents. Unless we do something, my fear is that it is going to get worse. The problem is that in 20 to 30 years when our youngest generation grows up and takes charge of government and business, its members will have grown up using Facebook, prescription drugs or online support groups as their primary coping mechanisms rather than relying on real support groups: biological bonds of friendship and loving relationships. I predict we will see a rise in depression, prescription drug abuse, suicide and other anti-social behaviours.”
This is serious stuff!
If we can understand the steps that can lead to such a negative state of affairs we can do something about it. The good news is that we already do!
We have been looking at how one of the most important life lessons not taught in current education systems around the world is how to cope with failure. That was one of the key points from Sir Ken Robinson’s hugely popular TED talk about How Schools Kill Creativity. There is a lot out there about success and how to be a success – we have even looked and discussed this in previous blog posts.
But there is no school curriculum, or learning syllabus, as far as I know, entitled ‘How to cope with Failure.’
Here is how a writer on leadership, J. Wallace Hamilton has put it:
“The increase of suicides, alcoholism and even some forms of nervous breakdown is evidence that many people are training for success when they should be training for failure. Failure is far more common than success; poverty is more prevalent than wealth; and disappointment more normal than arrival.”
I find those sobering words and they instinctively make sense. The truth is that in life the issue is not if you will have problems, setbacks and difficulties, but howare you going to deal with them when they come? And as certain as night follows day, those setbacks will come.
What is the main difference between people who achieve and people who are average in the outcomes they produce with their lives?
My Dad recently turned 80. We organised a celebration party for him, inviting a number of old friends and relatives who have been a part of my parents’ lives in England over the last few decades. It was a wonderfully special time. In the last couple of years Dad had not been in good health, but we are very grateful that his bypass surgery has been successful and given him a new lease of life.
With that in mind, this is a short life history of my Dad along with the lessons I have learnt from him.
If you have not been able to watch it yet I would encourage you to take 20 minutes out of your schedule to understand the important points he makes. If you have already seen it then watching it again I am sure would still give you valuable insights for your own life and those who you care about.
I live in Britain which is notoriously famous for being suspicious of hype (and often rightly so), but I make no exaggeration when I say that understanding and applying what Robinson is saying could be powerfully transformational.
Sir Ken Robinson is an English author, speaker, and international adviser on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education, and arts bodies. He was knighted for his services to education in 2003. The entertaining and humorous 20 minute video below is a TED talk given by him on the provocative subject of how schools kill creativity. It has been watched over 24 million times and is one of the most viewed TED talks of all time.
I find this a fascinating talk as Robinson powerfully articulates the frustrations I felt, but could not verbalise as a child growing up in the education system in England in the 1970s to 1980s and then on into medical school.
Although I did academically very well at school I left at 18 somewhat disillusioned and disatisfied. Over the years as I have tried to get to grips with that experience I have found myself challenged by what do we fundamentally mean by education and learning?
According to Einstein:
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.
Have a look at this school report for a 16 year old boy from 1949. The person referred to ranked last out of 250 boys in his year group at biology and was in the bottom set in every other science subject. What would you rate as his future prospects?
The 9th law of leadership according to John Maxwell is the law of magnetism, which states, “Who you are is who you attract.”
There are certainly aspects of who we are that we cannot influence and which have a significant impact on the kinds of people we feel drawn to and who are drawn to us – age, gender and background particularly come to mind. Being a middle class 40 something (only just!) British Asian male of Indian origin, then I find myself drawn to relating best to that kind of person. But in addition to that is the importance of the kind of attitude I have.
The story is told of a man travelling let’s say from City A to City B. On the way he meets someone called ‘a wise man’ who is coming from City B. He asks the wise man, what are the people in City B like.
Alice Herz Sommer is a remarkable woman. She is a Jewish holocaust survivor who in spite of her experiences has an incredibly positive view on life. This 13 minute video was filmed in London 3 weeks before her 108th birthday!
The narrator makes a powerful claim that “Alice experiences more joy in an average day than most people experience in a lifetime!” She was apparently swimming everyday until she was 97 and even now practices the piano 3 hours a day.
As I watched the video it struck me how happy and cheerful she continues to be in spite of her past and her current frailty.
What is the secret to happiness for this remarkable woman? Alice attributes it to two lessons her mother taught her:
So here we are a new year! What will 2014 hold for you? What are you looking forward to or maybe even dreading? What did you learn from this last year?
The start of a new year gives a natural opportunity to appraise how the last year has gone and make preparations for the months that lie ahead.
Søren Kierkegaard has a helpful quote that says, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.”
Those who do not learn from the past are invariably doomed to repeat the same mistakes or find themselves getting stuck in their relationships or other areas of their life. It is so easy to reach a lid to your potential. As someone has said, there is a world of difference between 30 years of experience and 1 year of experience repeated 30 times!
So with that in mind how was this last year for you? What are the lessons you learnt that you are going to aim to move forward in 2014?