Monday, 18 March 2013

Ice cream carts and little boys...

What children can teach us about trying, failing and moving on....

I saw him seated alone and sullen on a park bench, a little way from where I was doing my stretches. He had a mop of jet black hair, a bright yellow t-shirt and was playing with a small ball in his hands. Eventually I walked up to him and sat down beside him and he gave a hesitant smile.

His story then slowly unfolded. He was alone because he had failed at a test that would have qualified him to be a part of some special activity course. Wanting to know more, I asked him about the consequences. His innocent wide-eyed reply was that he would no longer get to sit beside his best friend, as they would now be in different class-rooms!


Even as I tried to not laugh at the innocent remark, it made me think about trying and failing and failure. There has been many a time when I have not tried something for fear that I would fail. How exactly can this fear of failure be deconstructed?

Real vs Percieved consequences: - Is the fear of failure in its consequences? The boy was clear about the consequences. What really bothered about failing to qualify was that, he would not be able to sit beside a friend. It wasnt about being on the course, gaining skills or some such. Of course, that can be considered as childish.

But if we honestly think about all the times that we did not try, fearing failure,  how many times were the consequences drastic: life or death, make or break or totally irreversible? My own answer is; very few. Not getting that admission or job is really not the end of the world. The percieved consequences are in the mind, and they are as big or as small as you want them to be. The actual consequences are at most times smaller than the percieved, and most are reversed, rendered insignificant or healed with time.

So if the fear of failure is not only in its actual consequences then how can it be explained?

Failed at something or a failure? : A friend of mine is a wonderful cook. She loves hosting people and can cook up a meal for the gods when she is at it. One day she called a few friends over and forgot something in the oven till they could smell something burning. The whole evening she apologized to her guests and she could never quite get past it, though she still had a good meal cooked up for them minus the dish. When they left, she promptly sank into the couch totally defeated. Her evening was ruined as she kept focussing on the one thing that got messed up. What was worse was the fearing of losing face. She feared that her friends must have concluded that she was a terrible host. But is a burnt dish a conclusive evidence of a bad host?

Focussing solely on imperfections in the output of an endeavor and losing face is often what makes up the fear of failure. Many a suicide, is a result of a loss of face and can be avoided by making an attempt at failing at something as opposed to being a failure. In fact no human should be tagged as failure. You always fail AT something. Failure then becomes a lack of capability, practice or just a result of adverse circumstances.

Fear of being alone: This fear, not just when applied to failure, is one of the biggest. We are social beings and do not want to be alone and failure is one of the most powerful repellents.

The little boy was alone in his failure. He had no one to play with in the park and he did not have the company of his best friend. However, while only the lucky few will have motivators, the rest have to find it within themselves to get past a particular failure. Being alone can be an undesirable state, but it is also a state for reflection. It is a time when lessons are learnt from mistakes, where the strength of the human spirit can go from being a tiny flame to a blazing fire.

But the boy was yet to give me the strongest message.


As I ruffled his hair with a smile, his eyes lit up when he heard the sound of an ice cream cart. He was off in a jiffy and turned back to wave at me. He happily got himself an ice cream and asked another boy who was also drawn to the cart if he wanted to play with him and soon they were happily playing with each other.

As I left the park, I thought to myself that probably the next time I was afraid to put myself out there fearing failure, ice cream carts and other little boys are often probably just a matter of some waiting and some looking...