In search of failure and purpose!

This past week,  I had the privilege of  presenting at a TEDxYouth event in Lethbridge, Alberta. The youth aspect of the event allowed me to hear some outstanding students and young adults. Some may have been more polished than others, but the messages of all were powerful. Events that allow youth to speak about what is important to them, provides me with two streams of thought. One, we are in great hands if we allow these young people to lead and two, youth voice provides for great learning when you really listen. Sometimes we can get caught up with “style points” but it is the heartfelt message that really needs to be heard. Interestingly, there were a couple of themes that permeated most of the talks.

The first and by far the most prevalent theme was that of failure. It wasn’t failure as a permanent condition but rather failure as a pre-condition to learning. It was an acknowledgement that without an understanding of failure, the likelihood of trying anything new was remote.  Most of the youth had conquered something in their lives (some more difficult than others) that without immense fortitude and sometimes support would have ended in a permanent condition. Instead, either the fear of failing or the recognition that mistakes were acceptable and part of the learning process, propelled these students and young adults in becoming who they are today.

I’ve often stated that we don’t allow our kids to safely fail enough. In our society, we have been brainwashed in believing that failure in itself is inherently harmful. We have often equated it as the only pre-cursor to poor self-esteem. Parents, (myself included) want to step in and protect, believing we are saving our children. And, while our children should always know we are in their corner, we do injustice, if we never allow them to taste and overcome safe failure. Listening to those students, solidified my belief that a little challenge and the potential to fail, truly builds strong character. Each took a chance, stumbled once or twice, but came out mentally stronger and more learned. Most, always knew where their safety net was situated, in order to venture out into the unknown. Those parents, whether they did it consciously or not, should be proud of their children’s life-learning skills. 

The second theme, seems to logically follow this ability to fail forward. Without the paralyzing fear of failure, these students and young adults have engaged in purposeful activities that made a difference in their local communities or beyond. This generation, has a far better grasp of social issues than any generation before. They recognize global injustice and more importantly, do something about it. What is most impressive about this purposeful life, is our current adult generation are generally not role models for this behaviour.  With the “I” mentality we exhibit in our lives, it is amazing that any young person thinks about anybody other than themselves. Our generation, probably should have been listened to more by the previous generation, but WE need to listen, observe and learn from our young adults.  They have tremendous potential and must be part of the solutions to the problems we’ve created. 

It is not an either/or world. We cannot simply stop honoring or respecting the past and live only in the eyes of the youth. But we must look through their eyes more often than we do now. This adult generation must find ways to expose our children to safe risks, build learning through safe failure and find opportunities to gain purpose. It is about creating a future for them, not a past for us!


    • Sandra Dufresne on January 27, 2013 at 9:12 PM
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    Great blog, Chris! I was equally inspired by the speakers at TEDx Youth on Friday. Your talk about our focus needing to be “Teach to their future, not our past” really resonated with us-and you should share it broadly!

  1. The TEDxYouth@Lethbridge committee would like to extend a big thank you to all the speakers and audience members of TEDxYouth. I have coordinated three TEDx events in Alberta and each of them presented a very organic experience for all those involved. The hope is to assemble a group of speakers that are entertaining and engaging and an awesome collective event mesage will emerge. Chris your blog entry is an excellent summary of the day.

    All eleven talks will be available for viewing over the next couple of months. To revisit or experience TEDxYouth@Lethbridge talks visit

    Paul Bohnert

    • Corinne Sampson on January 28, 2013 at 10:08 AM
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    I enjoy your blog posts. They give nay-sayers reasonable excuse to feel and speak positively about our youth today, credible because the info comes from the front lines. It is exciting to think that other parents like myself can easily expose themselves to this kind of dialogue.

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