A Letter to My Son About Failure
I can still picture the excitement on your face when I came to pick you up from your karate lesson tonight.
“Get your phone ready, I’m going to break a brick!” you said.
I admit, on the inside I was a little worried that you wouldn’t be able to do it, but you’ve surprised me in the past when you’ve broken through really thick boards.
I can still picture the determination in your eyes as you positioned yourself behind the brick, took a deep breath and, with a yell, brought your fist down as hard and fast as you could. The brick didn’t break that time. Or the next time. Or the next.
I watched with sadness in my heart as you fought back tears and walked to the side of the group. Until you are a father yourself, you won’t know how much it hurts to see your child struggle.
After everyone else had made an attempt, some successful some not, you asked to try again. I felt so proud of you for coming to try again. With renewed focus, you set up behind that brick once more and put everything you had into your punch, only to have the brick remain intact. Again you tried, and again, and again. I could see that you were flustered but I also saw a glimmer of something else. Persistence. I could see in your mind that you weren’t leaving the karate studio until you had broken that brick.
Time after time you tried. You hit that brick so many times your hand was throbbing with pain. I told you it was time to go but you begged for one more chance. This time you were going to put every ounce of energy and determination into one last punch.
Now here we are in the car driving home. You have your head turned away from me so I won’t see the tears streaming down your cheeks. The brick never broke and my heart aches for you. It brings up painful memories for me.
When I was your exact age, I tried out for the school basketball team. I thought for sure I was going to make it. I practiced every day and I felt like I was really good. But on the day of tryouts, I didn’t make the “A” team. I didn’t even make the “B”team. I made the “C” team which was made up of the kids who weren’t good enough to make the other teams. I went home and hid myself in a closet and cried for almost an hour.
I don’t think I’ve felt that same feeling again until I watched you tonight.
But tonight is different. The wisdom of years has taught me a little more about “failure.” Even though you don’t want to talk to me tonight, I need you to know a couple of things. I hope you’ll read this later when the wounds don’t feel so fresh. Hopefully when the pain of the moment has subsided, you will read this and feel a little better.
Even though you feel like a failure tonight, I saw something that gives me so much hope for you in the future. I saw something that is so much more important than breaking the brick. In fact, I’m more excited for what I saw than if you would have smashed through it on the first hit. I saw determination and persistence. I saw someone who wouldn’t accept failure. I saw someone fight through the emotions of a fall and get up to try again. Tonight I saw anything but a failure.
Not breaking that brick is not a failure. If you never try again, that is failure. Failure is only failure if you let it become final. If you get up and try again, failure turns into progress.
You see, tonight was not about the brick. It never was. Tonight was about life.
You will have many “bricks” in your path as you try to accomplish great things in your life. They always exist on the path to success and accomplishment. In fact, if you don’t encounter them from time to time, you may not be aiming for big enough goals.
These bricks will pop up when you least expect them. Some will be small, some will be enormous. Sometimes you won’t be able to see around them, climb over them, or dig under them. The only way to get past them will be to break through them. Remember, most of them won’t be broken on your first try. Or second. Some may take years to break through. There will be tears, and heartache, and pain. But I promise you this, on the other side of those bricks are the best things in life. Once you break through them you will be stronger, wiser, and better prepared for the next wonderful steps in your life…and bigger bricks.
You will one day look back and be grateful for the bricks you’ve broken because you’ll see they were all necessary to make you into the man you want to be.
Tonight was not about the brick. It was so much bigger than that. It was about pushing through the pain to achieve something you want. It was about focusing your energy in the pursuit of your goal. It was about overcoming the feelings of self-doubt and fear in order to give it just one more try.
Tonight, you won.
The brick didn’t break, but you still came out the winner because the brick couldn’t stop you from trying again. Always remember that. The victory goes to the person who refuses to give up in the face of adversity.
I couldn’t be more proud of you tonight.
And I’ll be at Home Depot tomorrow morning buying bricks for you to break this weekend.