Fear of Failure Destroying this Country

Real Estate Agent with Prudential Caruthurs

A compelling lesson I learned from my then fifteen year old son in 2003.

After a particularly crushing career development meeting with his guidance counselor at school, My son Rich was visibly upset.

Richard is learning disabled with ADD and Ausberger's Syndrome.  He had spent his entire school career in Learning Support. 

In 2003, he made an appointment with his guidance counselor because he had a complaint about his teacher.  His teacher would not let him take Japanese, something he was very passionate about learning.

During this meeting, Rich was told by his guidance counselor that his reading wasn't good enough to take Japanese or the other class he wanted, Computer Science (take apart and put computers back together again, troubleshoot, etc).  Rich was a junior in high school.  His grades were all A's and B's.

Richard countered that his grades have always been above board and his teacher's arguement did not support the decision not to allow him into those classes.

This is when the guidance counselor decided it would be in Rich's best interest to schedule another meeting when his mother could come in.

Fast-forward to meeting number two, with mom.  I listened to this guidance counselor explain to Rich that in learning support, they get "graded differently" than their normal students.  Rich had no idea he was reading on a third grade level . . . and aside from the yearly I.E.P. I saw where they wanted him to be, but not where he was.  His guidance counselor told Rich that because he was only reading at a third grade level, he could not take the Japanese class, nor could he take the computer science class he wanted.

(Let me point out that this kid can get through and beat just about every computer game that is out, can read the gaming books and the japanese animie books that he contantly bought with his allowance).

In the car on the way back home, my son cried.  I didn't know what to do for him.  He is almost sixteen years old and he is crying because as he put it, he was led to believe he was at a certain level because of his grades, that he was doing good, only to be told that he was in fact far below where he should be.  Suddenly he went into a rant that to this day, I think should be posted in every school across this country:

"Why?  Why did they lie to me? Why are they so afraid I'm going to fail?  I'm not afraid of failing!"  He took a breath  "Failing is how we learn?  How am I going to learn anything if they don't let me fail?  I'm not afraid of failing, THEY are afraid!"  He took another breath and I pulled the car over "They need to let me fail because I only fail if I never try!"

Seems to me this kid was smarter than all the teachers he ever had.  And I agreed with him.  I took this rant as the gem of wisdom from a kid that despite the arguments from educators to the contrary, needed to experience failure.  MANY kids need to experience failure.

Judging by our present state of our union, there are a few congressmen, CEO, companies and corporations that also need to experience failure.  Because the cost of such lack of failure is costing the rest of us dearly.

My son still excells at computer games.  He's become quite a consiencious young man and a deep thinker.  He graduated high school with a 3.2 and the same third grade reading level.  It is now 2009 and he reads at a sixth grade level.  He's made more progess since leaving school because he's had to.  He has no more crutches.

During one particularly bitter lesson recently involving employment, he was discussing with with me on the way to his brother's high school graduation.  He asked me, "Why didn't you help me with the interview?"

I asked him, "Rich . . . you just experienced failure . . . something you at one time had asked for.  Congratulations!  How does it feel to be an adult?"  The look I got in return should have been captured on Youtube.   He was proud!

Look forward to failure . . . most of our greatest inventions were lying underneath a failed experiment.


Comments (38)

Anne Clark
Metro Referrals - Gainesville, VA

WOW!!  What a fantastic story..........

Anne Clark

Jun 05, 2009 01:24 PM
Bonnie Cox
Prudential Caruthurs - Bel Air, MD

I am really overwhelmed.  I guess I expected some agreement as to the live lesson my son taught me, but what I found was an outpouring of support. 

Would it be okay to print some of these comments out for my son if he should ever get discouraged again?  Anyone who does NOT want me to read or print any of their posts, please send me an email and I will omit those.  I promise not to reprint any of these for any other purpose than for my son to see.

I am very warmed by some of your posts, sharing that you have a son, daughter, neice or nephew, or even yourselves that have struggled with some challange in school.  What I think most colleges miss in teaching their TEACHERS is that everyone is an individual.  Everyone has gifts in different areas, and challenges in other areas.  No one is the same.  The cookie-cutter learning atmospher, after the last 50 years or so of using it, should have taught them by now that it doesn't work.

There is nothing wrong with you that wasn't wrong with Einstein, Newton, Aristotle, Tugman, Parks, Whitney or the Wright Brothers, Lincoln . . . amongst other notable greats.  What ever your passion is, that is what you were gifted with.  You are gifted with it for a reason.  Those of us that have challenges are lucky in the sense that we know what we are not good at . . . so that is half our battle.  Nothing to confuse us or drive us off the path . . . just do what you are good at . . . because you are supposed to fulfil a need with it.

Thank you every one.

Jun 05, 2009 02:04 PM
Julie Dumaine-Russell
RE/MAX Alliance - Branford, CT

Bonnie -Your son has a great gift in understanding the obstacles we all must sometimes overcome in developing our specials skills and talents and to not fear failure no matter how many attempts it takes to find them.  

Jun 05, 2009 02:48 PM
Chris Olsen
Olsen Ziegler Realty - Cleveland, OH
Broker Owner Cleveland Ohio Real Estate

Hi Bonnie -- What a wise son you have, and this indeed is a lesson many of our leaders today could learn.  We only live once, and I absolutely believe in taking chances, and experience all of life has to offer.  It makes us a better person if we let it, and your son learned that a long time ago, or always knew it.

Jun 05, 2009 03:42 PM
Lane Bailey
Century 21 Results Realty - Suwanee, GA
Realtor & Car Guy

Failure is what it takes to appreciate success...  And failure is just another way to eliminate wrong options. 

Jun 05, 2009 04:07 PM
Andrew Haslett
Van Warren Home Inspections, NAHI CRI - Fort Knox, KY
Heartland of Kentuckynulls, Best Home Inspector

Bonnie, I had started another comment earlier today, but the power went out while being composed -- when the power goes out, so does the router for my internet connection. Let's see if I can get it in now that the power is back on.


My earlier comment, and many of those that I read, spoke more toward education and you and your son's experience.

But, I think your point was more about our elected officials understanding that failure is not a bad thing.

Judging by our present state of our union, there are a few congressmen, CEO, companies and corporations that also need to experience failure.  Because the cost of such lack of failure is costing the rest of us dearly.

The Federal government has gone to great lengths to keep certain large businesses from failing.

I think this is not because the officials think that a business failing is bad. I think this is because they recognize that these businesses have become so large through mergers and acquisitions that if these certain businesses fail, they take a huge sector of the economy with them -- they are too big to fail.

Business size is for another post.

Jun 05, 2009 04:19 PM
Sharon Alters
Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308 - Fleming Island, FL
Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL

Bonnie, your son is wiser than the people in charge of him. In order to boost his self esteem, they hid the truth. That is wrong because inevitably the kids will find out. Good for him for being an overcomer. He will do well in life.


Jun 05, 2009 04:52 PM
Sarah Nopp
South Sound, WA

It kind of goes hand in hand with the whole Nanny State thing. I read a study that said 30 years ago children had a 1 mile range they were allowed to travel. Today they have a line-of-sight range (they aren't allowed out of their parent's sight). Pretty tough to learn how to cope if you are never given the opportunity.

Jun 05, 2009 05:32 PM
Marney Kirk
Cummings & Co. Realtors - Towson, MD
Towson, Maryland Real Estate

Bonnie, what a GREAT post. Amazing how we need young people to tell us the honest truth -- we are too afraid of failure ourselves so we project that onto others. How unfair! Thank you for sharing in this post.

Jun 05, 2009 11:11 PM
Irene Kennedy Realtor® in Northwestern NJ
Weichert - Lopatcong, NJ


The pretty gold star is wonderful, but pales in comparison to the achievements of your son - and his mom! Hats off to you and Rich.

Jun 05, 2009 11:57 PM
Missy Caulk
Missy Caulk TEAM - Ann Arbor, MI
Savvy Realtor - Ann Arbor Real Estate

Bonnie, your son is awesome as is this post.

So deeply shared, not unusual to have this attitude from teachers.

If he wants to learn Japanese, hire a Asian American he will learn it in a way that is practical and useful.

My friend teaches English to Asian folks here in the U.S by taking them grocery shopping and everything practical.

Nothing wrong with failure.

Abraham Lincoln failed 7 times in his run for public office.

Jun 06, 2009 01:50 AM
Christianne O'Malley
Dickson Realty - Reno, NV
Exceptional Service - Delivering Results in Reno!

Bonnie - The fear of failure can be an incredible motivator. Your son had some incredible insight and sounds like a VERY BRIGHT young man. He's right - unless he's allowed to find his personal potential limitations (failure point) he won't know what he's capable of...and of course, our personal failure point is relative. As we learn, we push that farther and farther from ourselves...

My 3 year old is having this very experience potty training...it's all relative. I say your son can do whatever he sets his mind to - and if you continue to blog about it, please let him know he has a friend in Northern Nevada that will be cheering his every step...

I'll leave you with one last thought. At 2 years old, I made up my first sentence. It's the motto of my life for when someone tells me I can't do something (must have been my mother telling me not to climb on the furniture and very rational at the time) however, I replied...

You Don't Tell Me That!

Jun 06, 2009 02:04 AM
Jeani Codrey
RE/MAX Corridor - New Braunfels, TX
Director of Opportunity & Agent Development

Your son is wise beyond his years!  I was told by my high school guidance counselor that I was not "college material" my junior year of high school.  So I told my parents I wasn't going to college and they invested my college fund in real estate!  lol!  So when senior year came and all my friends were planning for college, I felt left out.  The same counselor again told me college wasn't for me and I should be a flight attendant...no offense to flight attendants...I believe they work very hard!  Long story short, I worked in my parents real estate business managing their rent houses to put myself through college and I graduated with honors with a Graphic Design/Copywriting degree.  I now am a broker/owner of my own office, a certified MCE Instructor, a curriculum developer, and a leadership facilitator.  I have served as president of my board of REALTORS, been named REALTOR of the Year and closed an average of 35 transactions a year over the life of my career.  I am a single mom to a wonderful, talented and intelligent son who I never place limitations on what he can accomplish.  He gets good grades, is working toward his Eagle Scout, is first chair trombone in the band, plays basketball and golf and is a talented photographer all at age 12!  I am so thankful that I didn't get mired down in the crap that "guidance" counselor gave me all those years ago.  If we never try, we never fail and if we never fail, we never learn and if we never learn we never live!!!

Jun 06, 2009 02:18 AM
Kevin Robinson
Twin Falls, ID
Fractional Developer

Bonnie- Excellent story. You are correct in that many in our country are afraid to fail. They say Thomas Edicson failed so many times that most people would have given up. Failure is what leads to success.

Jun 06, 2009 02:21 AM
Kevin Robinson
Twin Falls, ID
Fractional Developer

I am going to reblog this for you.

Jun 06, 2009 02:22 AM
Brenda Archambault
The Real Estate Investment Institute - Houston, TX


You are so right your sons statement are very true and should be in every school in the country. I know he will do what ever he wants to in life.




Jun 06, 2009 08:11 AM
Kim Curran
RE/MAX Unlimited of Northern Virginia - Bristow, VA


Please do share my comments with your son. He needs and deserves to hear how wonderful he is as a human.

Some of these other stories reminded me of my 9th grade algebra teacher who told me I was a failure at math. Well, algebra made no sense to me but geometry and trig did. I ended up becoming a trader on Wall Street using math to make my living. How ironic. I really wanted to send him a copy of my first bonus check!!!

Kudos to all those that have succeeded when someone told them they couldn't.


Jun 06, 2009 08:42 AM
Michael Layton
RE/MAX Desert Properties - Palm Springs, CA
Experience and Trust

Hi Bonnie,

Thanks for sharing the great story about your very wise son!  I echo the sentiments of the other responders.  He has vision.

My other take on your story is to point out to anyone in a teaching capacity or mentoring postion : Your job is to encourage creativity -learning and trying new things.  I personally feel that you are a failure as a teacher, coach, mentor etc.  if you are restricting your learners from spreading their wings and trying to learn more.  Just the process of trying to learn something is good experience. 

Learning is a daily activity that increases your vitality and sense of well being. If anyone aroudn you doesn't support you in learning - run the other way!

Thanks again for a great story - much good luck and further learning opportunities to Rich as well.


Jun 07, 2009 07:43 AM
Bonnie Cox
Prudential Caruthurs - Bel Air, MD

I remember my mother telling me a long time ago that nobody lies like a child . . . I counter that no one can tell the truth quite like a child (without the battles we have with empathy, decorum and cynicism).

I also remember being told years ago, that whatever you want in life, go after it like a child.  Seems we build up more fear of the unknown as adults.  Why is that?

I apologize that it took so long to get back to these posts.  We were stuck traveling back from Tennessee with car problems . . . something my son probably could NOT fix, LOL!

What a great group of realtors, title, loan and insurance professionals I have just become aligned with.  Now that I'm home, I will have time to read and learn more from your expertise!


Jun 10, 2009 10:11 AM
Mel Fink

what a beatiful story, Bonnie!

Jun 04, 2010 07:40 AM