The Fear Factor: When School Kids Commit Suicide

It is a sad day when you hear of the number of kids taking their life before end of school exams because of a genuine “fear of failure”.  These are not kids who have failed, these are kids who fear they may fail.  How have we created such a fear of failure in our society that school kids have got to this point?  

It is not just in the schools, I see this same problem every day in business as we help to transform and grow organisations through innovation.  People are becoming so fearful of failure that they would prefer to fail by doing nothing than to fail by doing something that has the slightest risk.  Companies are losing potential business as a fear of failure is turning management into risk avoiders rather than risk managers and leadership fear to step outside of mainstream thinking.  

I met with a Federal Minister a number of months ago.  I started the conversation with “Minister your department has spent more time and money on reports that tell us why we can’t solve a problem than it has spent on finding innovative solutions to solving the problem”.   This is an outcome of the fear of failure.  It is safer to produce a report decrying that something will not work because if it fails you were right and if it works you were just being cautious. However if you report that it will work and it fails your career is finished.   Hence Government only gets negative reports that stop innovative ideas in their tracks.  Fear of Failure is making our society unproductive.

We need to recognise that FEAR OF FAILURE is becoming a major cost to society and business that we need to resolve. We need to teach people to embrace failure. We need to teach children from an early age that it is OK to Fail, what does not kill us only makes us stronger. We need to teach kids that successful people got to where they are by learning from their failures. We need to reinforce the message with our political leaders, business leaders and employees “that it is far better to have a go and fail than to not have a go at all”.

There is a campaign to have more students enter STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) subjects to resource the future innovative businesses of the new economy.  It would be far more beneficial if they first attended a course teaching them “It is OK to Fail” as learning from failure is the most critical part of successful innovation.

There is a perception that innovation is the result of clever people coming up with clever ideas. The reality is that it takes years of hard work and constant failure to achieve successful outcomes. Even Steve Jobs was fired by Apple before he returned and took Apple to where it is today.

Einstein failed school.   Bill Gates was a drop out from University.  Henry Ford had gone broke 5 times before the success of Ford.  Colonel Sanders of KFC had his secret recipe rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it.  Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”   Winston Churchill struggled at school and failed 6th Grade.   Teachers told Thomas Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything.”  The Wright brothers tackled depression and tons of failed prototypes before the first powered flight.  J. K. Rowling went from social welfare to success through hard work and determination.   I could go on and on with lists of people who became  successful by learning from failure.

If entrepreneurs and innovators had succumbed to a fear of failure, we would not have computers, mobile phones, heart transplants, medicines, aeroplanes, motorcars and most other things we use every day.   We would not even have a job to go to in the morning, if someone did not overcome a fear of failure and open up a business and have the courage to give someone else a job. 

If you haven’t failed, you have not tried hard enough to succeed. We cannot move forward and grow, if we do not step outside of our comfort zone and have a go. If we have a go, then we have to accept that we may fail more times than we succeed. However it is far better to fail than to not have a go. I don’t want to get to this time next year and hear of another group of kids committing suicide because they fear they may fail their exams. Let us make sure that they recognise it is more import to have a go and get a poor result than to become so fearful of failure that they don’t try. Let us make today “EMBRACE FAILURE DAY” where we put greater focus on having go than becoming obsessed with outcomes.

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.

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