Planning (For Them) to Fail 

A few weeks ago at our annual student camp, I tried out a few new things with the small group of girls that I serve. At this point, they’re in eleventh grade and there’s some value in changing things up a bit, even with camp traditions, so they don’t feel stale. Here are a few things we tried this year…

1.    Peer one-on-ones.We all drew names and had a one-on-one conversation with a peer. 

2.    Small-er group prayer.Our small group has about 30 people. 20 were at this retreat. That’s a lot for prayer time, so each morning we circled in groups of 2 or 3 to pray for each other and with each other. 

Another new thing we tried was creating “failure kits.” Sounds like a downer, right?  But think about it. How many times have we seen a student go to a camp or retreat, make some sort of big life-changing commitment, come home and immediately fail, and decide “this just isn’t for me” or “I just can’t do this?” While we’re on the topic, how many of US as leaders have had the same experience? No matter how good the camp, no matter how impactful the teaching, no matter how sincere the commitments, one thing is true. 

We will all fail. 

So, why not plan for it?

And that’s just what we did. We made an in-case-of-failure kit. Each girl was given an envelope and a card. The goal was to simply assume she would mess up at some point in the future. Maybe it would be the day she got home. Maybe it would be years in the future. Either way, each girl wrote a letter to herself reminding herself…

1-   What was true about her.

2-   Why she should get back up instead of give up.

3-   Who she can call for encouragement. 

Then she sealed the letter and stashed it away. 

Honestly, I didn’t know if that activity would do all that I wanted it to.  I didn’t know if they’d think it was cool or boring or dumb. It seemed okay in the moment. No one rolled their eyes. So that’s a win, right? 

But this week, I got a more definitive answer. I got a text from a girl who had messed up, made a mistake she’d promised herself not to make (again), and had opened her envelope. While I would never share her name or circumstances or text, here’s a paraphrase of my favorite part:

“And I just don’t hate myself this time because I knew it was coming and I told myself that what I did doesn’t define me. That gave me the courage to keep trying .”.

What if we all had that perspective? 

What I did isn't who I am. And I'll keep trying.

It's certainly not a bad way to think of it, because the truth is we’re all going to fail at some point. Preparing our students for failure doesn’t make them any more likely to fail. It just reminds them that failing doesn’t make them a failure. It reminds them that failure is normal, it’s a  part of growth. In other words,  falling down is just the first step to getting back up.