You Have to Allow Failure in Order to Promote Growth

struggle and progress

My wife works for a few hours each Saturday, so every week that’s my chance for some quality time where it’s just me and my son. This past Saturday was particularly fun. He was an absolute champ with me in the morning as we visited two different car dealerships to test drive a couple of minivans. Then we went to my parents’ house to take care of their dog while they were gone for the day. We spent a lot of time outside chasing the dog, falling down in the grass and throwing crab apples.

Later night that my wife and I took him to the park just down the street from our house. We had a lot of fun, but it also reinforced an important, one that applies both to our lives as parents and to our success as investors. And that is that you have to allow for failure in order to promote growth.

Letting your child learn from experience

There are two sets of slides at the park and the ones that my son normally uses were covered in some kind of dirt. So when he wanted to use the slide, we guided him over the other pair. Being the happy-go-lucky kid that he his, he decided to try them out without any kind of hesitation.

Well, it turns out that these other slides are WAY faster than the ones he normally uses. He pushed himself off and was immediately flying down, almost tipping over on the way down before being shot off the end and landing on his butt. He looked up at me, unsure as to how he felt about the whole thing, and I gave my now much-practiced “look totally fine and happy even though inside you’re slightly terrified about what just happened” parenting face, clapped and said “good job Aiden!”. He took the cue, laughed, and immediately got up and started running over to the stairs so he could go down again. We spent the next 20 minutes going down this crazy-fast slide, and by the end of it he had it totally mastered, even doing cool things like using the speed of the landing to propel himself into a full sprint over to the stairs.

On the way home we had a similar experience. He wanted no part of being carried the 5 blocks, far preferring to run the entire way. Fine by me, except that he didn’t have on the best shoes for running and the sidewalk is far from smooth, so of course there were a few big spills along the way. It took a couple of skinned knees and a few almost-tears, but he was determined to make it the entire way himself and that he did. Aside from the few moments of pain, he loved that he was able to do it himself.

In both of these cases, it would have been very easy to go into full-on protective parent mode to try and keep him safe. I probably could have pretty easily guided him away from the slide by distracting him with another activity like the swing. Instead of letting him run and fall on the sidewalk, I could have picked him up and carried him no matter how much he fussed. And trust me, I’ve done both of those things before and I had strong urges to do them again.

But I also know that the only way my son is going to learn how to succeed is if I give him the chance to fail. I can’t protect him from everything, especially as he gets older, but I can give him the tools he needs to protect himself. And beyond that, if I truly want him to grow as a person I simply have to be comfortable with the fact that there will be bumps and bruises along the way. It’s just a part of life.

Successful investing requires the same mentality

We all know that the stock market has its ups and downs. We know it involves risk. We also know it’s the single biggest driver of your long-term investment returns and therefore something that almost anyone with long-term money goals should want as part of their investment plan.

So what does any of this have to do with me letting my son risk injury in the name of fun? If you’re going to invest in the stock market, you have to understand that it will not be a straight shot up. There will be many downturns, many trips and stumbles along the way. But if you want the long-term growth that the stock market can deliver, you can’t be afraid of those downturns. Trying to avoid them is a losing proposition, ultimately harmful to the long-term growth of your investments just like trying to shield my son from failure will harm his long-term development.

The people who succeed in investing are the people who make a plan they believe in and stick with it through the inevitable down periods. Although there are no guarantees, this kind of commitment has paid off again and again throughout history and it’s your best chance for success going forward.

Conclusions

Success almost never materializes as a straight rise to the top. The people who experience true long-term growth and development in any aspect of life are those who accept failure as an integral part of the process. If I want my son to develop as an independent, thoughtful and capable man, I have to give him space to try and fail. If I want my investments to steadily grow and help me achieve long-term financial freedom, I have to accept the periods of negative returns.

What parts of your own life have you found success only after allowing for failure?

Photo courtesy of laudu

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51 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • DC @ Young Adult Money August 28, 2013

    This is a great analogy. Good for your son for going all five blocks despite the falls and spills! I wrote about my small biz failures on Monday and I can definitely look back with a smile on all those sites that didn’t quite work out because I learned a lot and have come a long way since then.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      Your example is a really good one. Not many people at your point in life have tried to start even one business, let alone 5. And it definitely goes to show that persistence is a key attribute to success.

  • My post from Monday was another good example from this. It took 40 tries to get WD-40 right. Considering it is now one of the most successful products on the planet (name something else where the same brand of the same product is in 80% of American homes), imagine the different position the company would be in now if they had quit after the first few failures!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      Great point. WD-40 is a perfect example. A lot of people are thankful they didn’t let failure stop them.

  • Holly Johnson August 28, 2013

    Obviously, Greg just failed at his new sales job. I really do think that he will use the opportunity to find something else to do that he loves!

  • AvgJoeMoney August 28, 2013

    I’m the total opposite of your son. I get upset that my wife doesn’t want to carry me on our walks around the block. I want no part of walking that far…kidding me? I’m not training for the Olympics!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      Oh Joe. I’m never quite sure what to do with you. Except laugh. Thanks for keeping things light. Maybe you should’ve considered marrying a Russian shot-putter. You might have had some better luck in the carrying department. But I’m guessing your wife feels like she’s got plenty of you on her shoulders already.

  • Monasez (@Monasez) August 28, 2013

    I would say with school, I had plenty of failures . I was trying to be a nurse in college and I had my life planned out. Through failure in those courses, I experimented with other courses and then I found my passion. Now I have my degree(though I’m not really using it) I’m still successful in my career and doing what I love to do.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      Great example! I think a lot of us start school with one idea of what we want to do and end up doing something totally different. I have a friend who was pre-law for 3.5 years before deciding to go pre-med just before the last semester. That was tough for her to admit, and pull off, but she’s much happier for it.

  • I failed swimming lessons 4 times. I didn’t want to keep going, but my mom kept signing me up since she didn’t want to worry about me falling into water and not being able to save myself. Eventually I had enough failure and sucked it up and put my face in the water to pass and learn how to swim.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      Oh god, I was terrible at swimming when I first started. Your mom had the right idea though. Swimming is definitely an important skill, especially where you guys live.

  • Andrew August 28, 2013

    What a coincidence…I just realized that our sons have the same name (except we spell it Aidan). I have had plenty of failures in investing and trying to time the market. Now I have a plan in place and invest in index funds. I don’t worry about the ups and downs in the market.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      Oh cool! We picked Aiden thinking it was a somewhat original name only to find out that it was the #1 most popular boy’s name in country. Oh well, haha. Still a great name. I like your investing story too. A great lesson for people to hear.

      • Andrew August 28, 2013

        I didn’t know it was that popular…I don’t know anyone with that name. Everyone seems to spell it “Aiden” so I guess my son will have to correct them…it’ll be alright though.

        • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

          Yeah we were pretty surprised too. At least your son will have some differentiation. Really, it’s no big deal though. It’s not like Matt and Andrew are in any way uncommon.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup August 28, 2013

    Are you and I on the same page or something Matt? I got my post about car buying options and now you have this post about failure. I have the same thing in my queue, so I will make sure to push it to another date. I will also link to you if that is ok. Nice article my friend.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      Haha, get out of my head! We’ll have to start working off a shared calendar or something.

      • Grayson @ Debt Roundup August 28, 2013

        Maybe we should just team up and create a kick ass site!

        • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

          You know I’m always down for creating a super-team. We had the original one right here in Boston with the Pierce-KG-Allen trio. That one worked out pretty well.

          • Grayson @ Debt Roundup August 28, 2013

            Haha, nice! We just need more people or at least one more….

          • Andrew August 28, 2013

            I want to join the team! But I’d probably be Keith Bogans or whoever the 12th man is…so you’d still need someone for the Big Three.

          • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

            Haha, welcome aboard Andrew! Though with all the little babies between the three of us we might be the most sleep-deprived super team of all time. Maybe we can work in shifts.

          • Grayson @ Debt Roundup August 28, 2013

            I agree there Matt. Maybe we can be the midnight warriors or something. I work just at night on my blog and other websites. Burning the midnight oils! Let’s do this…..:)

          • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

            Sounds good. I’ll take over for the morning shift. I like how this is shaping up!

  • James Molet August 28, 2013

    Great insights that we all could learn from. Some of my best experiences were born out of failures.

  • Free Money Minute August 28, 2013

    There are so many to name. One that I am most proud of recently is my blogging experience. I had a blog a few years ago and let the domain name go back and quit posting. I came back this year and my new blog is doing well. My writing has improved, marketing is kicking into high gear and I am actually turning a little bit of a profit. Most people who are successful have failed many, many times before.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      Great example. I know I’ve felt pretty discouraged at different points with my blog but so far I’ve kept at it and definitely seen progress. You’ve got to power through those tough times to get where you want to go.

  • Alexa Mason August 28, 2013

    I have been actively trying to give my kids this independence as well. For me, failure has taught me so much! Especially when it comes to freelancing. I went from not being able to get a single job to perfecting my approaches and now I have so much work I can barely keep up. I embrace failure.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      You definitely sound like you’re crushing it these days with the freelancing. Perfect example of using failures to hone your strategies and reach your goal.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules August 28, 2013

    Nice post Matt! I’ve had too many of these instances to remember and think these are great opportunities to learn for ourselves and teach little ones. On one hand, I hate to fail, but on the other hand they’re great opportunities to learn and succeed in future things.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      I love just watching my son as he tries to figure something out. We’ve taught him how to ask for help, but he usually tries at least a few times before he decides to ask. It’s cool how persistent kids can be. We can learn a lot from them.

  • Nick @ ayoungpro.com August 28, 2013

    I love this topic. I write about it frequently in my posts. The only time failure is a bad thing is if you don’t learn from it.

  • E.M. August 28, 2013

    Great analogy Matt! I loved the story about your son, he sounds like quite the determined little one! I think we can learn from that as well – he fell, got back up, and continued on head strong. It’s important not only to learn from failure, but to be even more motivated to succeed afterward. I know that when I face challenges, they push me to overcome them and I’m usually a better person for it.
    I am going to go with my first failed relationship. After it was over, I had a better idea of what I wanted and it was a growing experience. I used all the lessons I learned to make my next one better (and still successful).

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      Thanks! He’s very determined. My wife calls him an “I do it” kid.

      And oh man, I’ve definitely learned from past relationships. Things I’ve liked, things I didn’t like, how not to totally screw it up. I like to think I’ve gotten better, but I think it has more to do with meeting a better woman.

  • Lisa vs. the Loans August 28, 2013

    I love this – failure is just another part of life that can’t be avoided. You can try to avoid it as much as possible, but the truth is that once you experience it, you have learned things you can never learn if you have never failed.

  • Budget & the Beach August 28, 2013

    Well this subject sounds familiar. 🙂 I think my tolerance for trying new things have increased as I’ve been a freelancer, because let’s face it, I didn’t have very far to fall so there wasn’t a whole lot to lose. It gets me excited about all the new things I want to try related to blogging. Now if I can just find the time…

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 28, 2013

      Haha, yeah, maybe you can join the super team with me, Grayson and Andrew! You’re clearly selling yourself incredibly short here. You’ve done some pretty awesome things with your blog. I’m with you though, I could use a few more hours in the day.

  • MoneySmartGuides August 29, 2013

    Great post! Too many people fear failing but that is what makes us grow and become better people. I think many would be much better off if they stopped fearing failure and embraced it at times.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer August 29, 2013

    Love this, Matt! And funny about the “everything’s fine” face. 🙂 I would say our biggest success after failure has been this year’s journey to debt free. We had tried so many times to get out of debt and would just feel overwhelmed and give up. Now, we’re on track, and we’re SO glad we tried just “one more time”.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 30, 2013

      The “everything’s fine” face is actually my wife’s invention. Brilliant.

      You guys are such an awesome example of using failure to propel success. I know it’s been a long journey but you’re example is one that a lot of people can look to for inspiration.

  • Lindsey@ Sense & Sensibility August 29, 2013

    Hi Matt, Pretty much every area of my life has been success only after failure. With great risk, comes great reward. Is that a saying? It should be. God, I’m wise. I’m like a Jedi Master or something.

    I love your “Everything is GREAT” panic parenting face, that’s awesome. Kids take a lot of their cues from us and teaching Aiden to handle the ups and downs of his every day life with that “get back on the horse” idea will serve him well. Nicely done, buddy.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 30, 2013

      Haha, I feel wiser just from being able to read your comments on my blog. Thanks for blessing us!

      As I said to Laurie, that face is the invention of my wife. She’s pretty much a genius. I used to gasp every time he took a little tumble but I’ve gotten a lot better thanks to her encouragement. It’s definitely an incredibly useful trick.

  • Pauline @ MakeMoneyYourWay August 29, 2013

    I love how toddlers are looking for an answer in your eyes when they fall, it doesn’t hurt, they feel ok, but need reassurance that it is alright, and if you freak out they’ll cry immediately but if you just shrug they’ll get up and go on with life. so funny.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 30, 2013

      I know, it’s pretty amazing how much they learn from just about everything we do. If only we could be so influential when they hit their teen years! That, I think, will be a little more difficult.

  • Charles@gettingarichlife August 30, 2013

    Matt,
    My most profitable investments I have lost money on. I bought stocks in 2008 which dropped, Netflix which then dropped an recovered. As long as you have an investment strategy with a long enough horizon and buy great companies you will always make money. If you sell at the first sign of trouble you will under perform.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 30, 2013

      I definitely agree with you about having a long horizon and not bailing at the first sign of trouble. Those are two of the key components to investment success for sure.

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