Helping youth find success in failure

Not-so-successful experiences can provide youth with valuable lessons in leadership and service to use in future endeavors.

Each year, 4-Hers are encouraged to set high but realistic goals through their 4-H work. Whether it be a 4-H craft project or a leadership project, youth have the opportunity to practice the skills necessary to reach their goals and complete projects with the help of their peers and caring adult leaders. In many instances, goals are met and the project is considered a success. When this happens, young people are encouraged to set higher goals for the next project year. However, as life would show, not all experiences are “successful,” but as we take a closer look, there can actually be such a thing as success when things don’t go as planned.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of failure is “a lack of success” or “the act of neglecting or forgetting to do or perform.” It also seems that “letting” youth “fail” is actually an indicator of a failure by the adults in the youth’s life. Instead, adults can help youth turn a perceived failure into success by processing the experience with some reflective questions, such as:

  • How did you feel about the experience?
  • What were barriers that stopped the experience from going as planned?
  • Which of these barriers can you control?
  • What would you try different next time?
  • What new goals would you like to set for the project?
  • Who can help you meet your goals next time?
  • What parts of the experience went as planned?

In answering these questions and reviewing the situation, youth and adults can gain valuable information to use in future projects. Sometimes “failures” provide more opportunities for learning than successful experiences, and together youth and adults can work to discover those lessons.

In the words of a Michigan 4-H member from Branch County, “Before I started participating in the 4-H program, I was always afraid to fail. I learned through 4-H that you had to fail and fall down in order to learn from your mistakes so that you can succeed in the future.”

As adults and young people work together in leadership experiences, failure can translate into success when the lessons learned can be used in setting and achieving future goals.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global/cultural programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.”

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