Embracing Failure to Create Change

How many of us adults (or teens) actively embrace rejection or failure? Most of us try as hard as possible to avoid mistakes, particularly big, public ones. What if we risked trying something with the knowledge that failure was a distinct possibility and continued to try on a regular basis? That’s what 29-year social entrepreneur, global poverty ambassador and TEDx speaker, Caleb Meakins did in creating a 40-day challenge to try something new every day and probably fail.


I was inspired by Caleb when he gave the keynote address at a Families in Global Transition conference I recently attended in Bangkok. As a pediatrician, I often talk about the importance of allowing young people to try and fail to ultimately develop resilience and create pathways to success. Too often, I have witnessed young people feel crushed after experiencing a poor grade, breakup or other set back, particularly in the university setting.


 Caleb was speaking at the conference about creating change in the world. As a cross cultural kid with British and Ethiopian roots, he felt a strong desire to try his hand at social innovation in his native Ethiopia instead of taking the more traditional route of becoming a practicing engineer. While deliberating his career path, he came up with the idea of having people give him a new challenge every day for 40 days (as long as it was legal) and documenting his daily trials with a hidden camera. The challenges which range from bringing a whole raw chicken to fast food restaurants and asking staff there to cook it (answer: “no way!”) to lying on the ground in a busy public metro station are both hilarious and haunting.


The take home message from Caleb’s exploits: we ourselves are much more aware of our own failures and rejections than the people around us. We need to challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zones to create change and ultimately be successful by embracing failure as a natural part of the journey. The new generation of cross-cultural kids have many strengths, including an understanding of cultures, sensitivity to others, and a worldview which can help them to effect global change.


In his talk, Caleb takes the fear out of starting something new by asking us what we would do if we could try something and it was… impossible to fail? The answer to this question may be our life dream or passion. Caleb’s point is that if we would do it if we couldn’t fail, why not try it even if we may fail or it didn’t quite work out? I believe we would all set more challenging goals if we adopted this mindset as it would take the fear out of failure. In Caleb’s own case, he decided to return to Addis Ababa and found Bake and Brew, which serves as both a café for world-renowned Ethiopian coffee and an innovation hub for young entrepreneurs.


Caleb’s story makes a good case for why parents need to stop protecting kids from failure. Instead, we need to allow young people to take risks and try new pathways in the spirit of making the world a better place. As I mentioned in a previous piece on snowplow vs dolphin parenting. All too often, we would rather remove obstacles in our kids’ way than allow them to face fear or rejection.


Indeed, there are many significant global challenges out there that need to be addressed by those who are not afraid of trying.  Some of the top concerns that millennials have today are climate change, large scale conflict, inequality and poverty. Our kids have creative and thoughtful ideas and approaches that we would never envision as adults in addressing big issues. Let them try. And fail. And learn. And try again. After all, the lightbulb, solar panel, and airplane were invented by individuals who dared to dream and failed many times before succeeding. So, what would your teen (or you) do? Let’s challenge our kids (and ourselves) to step out of our comfort zone and dare to change the world. 

For more tips read: https://parentandteen.com/let-your-teen-fail/