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Dear Son: I Hope You Fail

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Dear son,

Looking at you — my 5-year-old boy, months away from stepping into your Kindergarten class — I’m overwhelmed with wishes and hopes for your future. As any mother is. I hope you make friends in a leadership-type way, rather than being herded along against your better judgment. I hope you retain this incredible excitement toward learning new things. I hope you find something that sparks a passion inside of you, and I hope that you believe in yourself enough to pursue what makes you happy.

I also hope you fail.

I hope you experience moments of struggle.

I hope you feel disappointment and live through difficult times.

Now that might be jarring to read, as it’s hard to write — to feel. I have this primal urge to throw my arms around you as a shield from anyone or anything that might knock you down. Anything that might hurt you. You’re my baby.

But I’m also your mother.

My goal is to help you develop into a good, empathetic, productive person who brings more light than darkness to the world — as I’m pretty sure a mother’s goal should be — and I know that endlessly protecting you is the wrong approach. It’s also a ludicrous approach. My arms can never be a shield from the ups and downs of life, and even if they could be — even if I could wave a wand and mitigate the painful parts of being a human — is that what’s best for you?

If you were to skate through life unscathed — always happy and successful — you’d probably end up a boring shell of a person. It’s the moments of struggle — the difficult times that you muscle your way through, the embarrassing failures and unexpected life twists — that build character. They make an interesting person who understands the human condition and can see life through a variety of perspectives.

They make a strong person with depth and self-awareness.

People will tell you otherwise, of course. They’ll tell you that it’s weak to fail. That only First Place counts. That success deserves trophies and awards and status, and that failing at something is indicative of something wrong, weak, about you. As if life isn’t riddled with inconsistencies and sheer luck, and every success story doesn’t have a history of rejection, ridicule, and failure.

Here’s the truth: Your mistakes and failures will teach you lessons that can only be learned by living through them. Your most difficult, struggling times will teach you more about yourself than anything I ever could.

Your failures and struggles can make you a better, more resilient person. With hindsight, they can be the most important moments of your life.

So yes, I hope you fail.

But then I hope that you stand back up — no matter the force of the blow — with more clarity and character than you had to begin with.

I also hope that you come to me when you need a safe space to cry and vent and mourn, or just to get some reassurance. My arms might not be an all-mighty magical shield, but they can still dole out some powerful hugs.

And that I can promise.

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