Victoria Lambert talks to author Frances Edmonds about the value of learning to fail successfully

Frances Edmonds

Resilience is one of those life skills we all want our children to develop. Yet, are we as parents sometimes at risk of sabotaging their potential to develop it at the same time? This is one of the questions asked by author Frances Edmonds in her new self-development book Repotting Your Life, in which she explores the best ways to get out of a rut – professionally or personally. ‘None of us want our children to fail but dealing with manageable failure early on doesn’t flaw someone for life.

‘It’s a very good life lesson to pick yourself up and start again. We all know that. Yet, when it comes to our teenagers, we encourage them to find that one thing they are good at, to specialise in it and then to excel. That doesn’t leave much time for trying lots of different things which they may find harder or never be the best at.’

‘How many young people climb up this long ladder of excellence only to discover it has been placed against the wrong wall?’

Yet, she says, failing is what teaches us to cope with challenges and to be humble. ‘We all know those people who never seem to have failed and ended up being smug or arrogant. That’s not how we want our children to be.’

She mentions a young man whom she describes as a ‘maths whizz’. ‘He was always the best at maths, so did it all the time… A-levels, university… but then he realised that it wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life. He realised there was more but he hadn’t had a chance to try anything else when he was young enough to explore them.’

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In effect, Edmonds warns: ‘How many young people climb up this long ladder of excellence only to discover it has been placed against the wrong wall?’

She adds: ‘You don’t want your children to fail at the first hurdle but you don’t want them to flog a dead horse either!’

And it’s not the school’s fault. Most of them offer interesting and wide-ranging enrichment programs – from art classes to Duke of Edinburgh schemes to meditation and mindfulness – but the system is grade focussed. Edmonds quotes WB Yeats: ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.’

Ultimately, it is that same inspiration created by exploring options that will create the growth mindset that brings resilience and allows young people to trust in themselves. ‘Our children are going to navigate potentially 100-year-long life spans. It’s really important that they understand they can keep growing and changing, and that they are not set on that one path they happened to excel at first.’

Radiators and Drains

People fall into these two categories. Radiators generate energy and drains suck your vitality away, leaving you feeling exhausted. If drains have no legitimate call on your time, be ruthless and step away from them. This will help you create headspace and time for your new plans and purpose.

Edmonds talks about how adults know when they are stuck in a rut and need to move on. This is a skill, she thinks, teens should learn too.

It’s hard to change direction when you have invested in something – your first career choice or a specific university course. ‘For an 18-year-old that can be frightening. It can be hard to see at the time. But learning to do that while young and without fear, learning that nothing is lost or wasted, is a wonderful lesson.’

She quotes the mantra of Silicon Valley: ‘Fail, fail fast, fail forward. That’s what being resilient can help you do, and it breeds more resilience as well.’

Repotting Your Life, £14.99 Elliott & Thompson

The Four Stages of Repotting

1 Potbound
Recognise when you need to make a change. This can happen at any age and it could be a relationship as well as a career plan.

2 Pots and Plans
Identify what makes you happy and what matters most. Take time to think. Find a quiet space without 21st-century distractions.

3 Pulling up the Roots
Reframe your thinking and commit to your re-potted future. This may hurt at first. Be ready for that and stick with your new goals.

4 Bedding In
Reset your purpose and re-energise for your next adventure. Look for the positives and don’t focus on the past.


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