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Learning to Fail


I guess I shouldn't be surprised by much of anything anymore. An article in the New York Times a few weeks ago detailed one of the hottest new presentations on college campuses: "How to Fail."  These seminars are designed to confront something that too many college freshmen have never faced: not being the best in the room.

Taking home a gold trophy for participation after a season of little league, never getting a grade lower than an A-, always having their wishes fulfilled, hovering helicopter parents protecting children from facing the reality of a world full of disappointment....these young adults don't know how to handle failure. Depression and dropout rates reflect the problems with a generation who spent life in a bubble.

Colleges have discovered that the problem is serious enough that these students need help in accepting less than perfection from themselves. They have to learn that a B or C isn't a mark of a loser. Not getting a class they want, or having a less than perfect roommate is part of life. Failing to be picked by your first choice Greek house is way down on the important list. Being trolled on social media is small potatoes.

This is one part of life retirees don't need to worry about. We don't need a class in failing occasionally, sometimes spectacularly. We know life isn't fair, some folks are jerks, and few people ever ask to see your resume later in life.

The mark of a life well lived is in how we respond to disappointment and failure. A complete life leaves a trail of good and bad, happy and sad. Friends and enemies populate our past. Sometimes family members need to take a time out. Sometimes we need to sit in the corner for awhile.

Only if we let those events, both positive and negative, define who we are, should we sign up for one of these courses. By now we have learned the art of balance, of compromise, of accepting. We look forward to challenges rather than avoiding them. We appreciate the nuances of life, the things that paint our canvas with subtle or unexpected colors.

I am pleased higher education has discovered the need for teaching failure as well as success. That bodes well for the proper maturation of the students lucky enough to participate. It suggests that when they are ready to retire they will know what we learned on our own: a life is build through a series of stumbles and advances, adversities and achievements. 

Ultimately, a satisfying retirement is what that process creates. 



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