My son took a martial arts class recently, one day a week, after school, with a bunch of other kids. He came home a few days before the “graduation” and told us he might have to break a board to graduate. He had not practiced this in class. I didn’t think much on it.
I missed most of his graduation because I had to take my daughter to another event that was scheduled at the same time. When I arrived another mom told me she had a video to send me of my son breaking a board. Holy moly, I thought, they actually had to break a board! That’s intense.
It got better, or more intense. Each kid had to get up one at a time, in front of 30 or so other kids, and the 30+ parents who were in attendance, and break a board. I had no idea there were going to be over 60 people at this thing. I had no idea my shy 9-year-old was going to have stand in front of everyone and do this skill he had never practiced.
It turns out he didn’t quite know he was going to do this either. It turns out the first time he stood in front of all these people and tried this new thing, while everyone cheered and chanted for him, he failed.
He did not break the board.
The mom who was telling me about this is a friend. She said he cried. She said he sat in the back. She said the graduation just moved along to the next kid and the next. I desperately wished I had been there. She said an instructor went back to him and talked to him for a couple seconds. She said my son, got back up. He wiped his eyes.
He tried again. In front of all these people he stood up again, after failing.
And the second time he tried, he broke that damn board.
Holy moly. Now that’s a test. Now that’s proving yourself.
I cried a bit. Out of concern for him. Out of pride. Out of sadness. Out of happiness and joy. All of it mixed together.
And then I watched him get his next belt. I watched him stand up with this group of 30+ kids and graduate to the next level.
And the whole experience got me thinking about graduations and about being tested and about proving yourself. And here’s what I’ve been thinking, and what I would tell myself if I were my own best friend. Failure is important. I think it may be really important to fail and then get back up. It may be more important when being tested that you fail sometimes and then have to prove yourself after failing.
I don’t want to take anything away from the kids who broke the board the first time. But I do think there is something especially valuable in breaking the board after failing at it at least once. If you break the board the first time what do I know about you? You broke the board. Did you get lucky? Was it skill? Did you really have the confidence to do it? Who knows. All I know is you got up and you broke the board. Kudos!
But if you break the board after failing I know something more about you. I know you failed in front of everyone. I know you had to find the strength to stand back up in front of all those people. I know you had to take a chance and find the will to try again. And I know you persevered because you broke the board, despite failing the first time.
If I were my own best friend I would tell myself it is okay to fail. Just make sure you get back up and try again, if it’s something you really want.