I sent the following text to my friend as I watched my seven month-old baby attempt to learn how to pull up.

“Watching my baby had me realize something, we get in our way. He, and most babies, are persistent and don’t allow new things to stop them. They gravitate toward new. They continue trying to reach a goal/milestone until they accomplish it. Yes all they have to do is attempt over and over with nothing else to do, but they don’t quit. They keep going even if they fall (fail). Life changes us as we begin growing up and we lose that persistence. Amen to saying yes. May we reach our goals as we persist and don’t allow fear or the unknowns to get in our way”.

Looking through the exploring eyes of a baby I began to learn, as an adult, that it is okay to fail. Failure, falling, or whatever adjective you want to use allows us to learn what not to do. Failure opens our eyes to the idea that there is more than one way to do anything. Forces us to utilize critical thinking to overcome the slump we may be in at the moment.

This is what I have learned, watching my inquisitive child, about the importance of knowing it’s okay to fail.

  • Failure doesn’t physically break you. This baby rose over and over and over and over again. Each time he pulled himself he came tumbling back down. When he landed, he looked around, saw smiles coaching him to keep going, and attempted to pull up again. This can apply to us as well. We will fail (fall). It’s inevitable, but we are still physically whole as we figure out a different way to achieve our goal.

  • Repeat. Over and over and over and over again. How many times should you try before you stop attempting? According to my baby, never. That may not be what is best for you, and only you know what is best for you, but maybe failing once isn’t enough to say you are done for good.

  • Reach out for support. Each time my baby sensed he was a little wobbly or might drop, he reached out his hand for support. As his little hand reached out for us we did what we could to assist. Standing was his to achieve, I couldn’t do it for him, but I was there by his side to help him along the way. We are not in this alone. Who can you turn to for that emotional support when failure seems to overwhelm you?

  • Mindset is everything. A sense of pride and excitement was on my baby’s face to begin to do something he hadn’t done. He smiled through every fall, every rise, and every time he reached his hand out. My baby’s mindset was to achieve, he didn’t know at that time what was happening to him could be considered failing. Our mindset determines our outlook when the going gets tough. When you have heard one too many “no’s” and it doesn’t seem like the light at the end of the tunnel exists, where does your mind go? Hopefully towards positive as you figure out a different way to the jigsaw puzzle in front of you.

  • Failure is how we learn. No one, not even babies, get it right on the first try. Failure helps us to know what to do and what to not do. Each attempt, each failure, and each success inches us closer to the end goal. Failure can also help us to know what we don’t want to do. Learning through the process, good or bad, is all that it’s about.

The list can go on and on, with each item that I or anyone else thinks of to be wonderful insight into why it’s okay to fail. While the word fail can conjure up negative reactions and doesn’t feel good in the moment, please know that It. Is. Okay. To. Fail. Truly, the main person judging you is you. Once you don’t take yourself so seriously, you can be open to the falls, the repeats, and the support as easily as the young children do.

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Dr. Chemika Burkhalter, LCSW, MCLC

Dr. B is a licensed clinical therapist and a master certified life coach with a client-centered emphasis and a love for helping people navigate their way to the “aha” moment.