Revolutionaries have always had a different take on failure than the rest of us.
Thomas Edison, the man who brought us light bulbs and telephones, found a silver lining in failure, saying, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”
One of the 20th century’s most inspirational figures, Robert F. Kennedy, reminded us that “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Today, visionary and billionaire Richard Branson proves that the trend of successful people embracing failure lives on. “If you fall flat on your face, at least you’re moving forward. All you have to do is get back up and try again,” he advises.
But what about the rest of us? Unfortunately, many of us still live deeply in fear of failing. There exists a pervasive belief that high achievers, despite their constant admonishment to the contrary, have spent their entire life jumping from one success to the next. And that is holding us back.
A fear of failure is something imbued in us at a surprisingly young age. Naturally, parents go to great lengths to protect their children from skinned knees and sprained ankles; after all, who would want to see their child suffer?
In this instance, one outcome has been a 10 percent decline in the rate of “nonfatal fall injuries” among school-aged children over the past decade. But safety-proofing our children’s lives is having an unintended consequence. It’s effectively teaching, from a very young age, that failure is to be avoided at all costs.
Embracing Failure: The SuperCamp Way
At SuperCamp, we believe it’s time to let that thinking go. Our campers split their time focusing on both academic performance and career and life skills. No matter what the day holds – outdoor sports, group activities, and time to socialize – our students feel empowered to take risks.
Let me expand for a moment on the importance of the empowerment. Without support from mentors and peers, most students fall into their default behavioral patterns. By bringing a positive energy and culture of acceptance to our programming every day we free our students to take risks that they wouldn’t otherwise.
One SuperCamp student described her experience like this: “In ten days, I learned that when you are confident and when you know what tools to use, then you will win the game of school and of life. At SuperCamp I learned I can achieve any goal I have.” We’ve been hearing similar comments for years.
Though our programming varies from academic summer camps for middle school students to a motivational camp for high schoolers, over our 35 years of experience, we have gotten a feel for who our students are and how to reach them.
We’ve identified four types of students who attend our camps, and looked at how each one is prone to risk-averse behavior. It’s no coincidence that the hurdles each group faces all involve a fear of failure.
- The straight-A high achiever often looks like a golden child on paper, but may struggle in non-academic areas. A fixation with success can be a good problem to have, but it can be a sign of trouble down the road. Many of these students have trouble adapting to college, a higher-paced environment where they may not be the smartest one in class.
- One of the most common types of students are those not living up to full potential. Satisfied with the effortless Bs instead of hard-won As, this group is usually academically gifted. These students frustrate parents to no end, with a common complaint being, “If he would only apply himself.”
- Commonly middle children, under-the-radar types tend to work moderately hard for Bs and Cs. These students may feel discouraged and that they’re not as bright as their peers. This can lead to going through the motions and losing any passion they once had for learning.
- Finally, struggling students feel like they’ve fallen off the rails completely. Failing grades can cause demoralization that impacts every part of a child’s life. Often this group has failed to find teachers or academic mentors they can connect with. A typical sentiment from struggling students is, “School just isn’t for me.”
Recognizing Shortcomings and Empowering Students
Our ability to teach life skills like confidence and risk-taking, as well as recognize how those skills create success in and out of the classroom, is what separates us from other camps. Sure, we offer instructions on how to study effectively, but we also talk about leadership and effective communication. We study technique, but we’re also a motivational camp. A high GPA will get you into college, but confidence will last you the rest of your life.