Learning from Failure

Today, I was a recalling an incident that happened many years ago when our son was taking karate. He had been taking lessons for a couple of years and had made good progress. It was the day when all the students would take their test to be promoted to the next color belt. Justin was about 7 years old, and the others in his group were one or two years older.

All of the students in his group did what they needed to in order to be promoted. They did their routine, followed the sensei’s (teacher’s) instructions, and sat down, confident that they would pass.

At the next class, the sensei started with the beginners. He called each student by name and asked them to stand up. Every one of the beginners had passed and received their next color belt. Sensei gave them their new belt, and they proudly bowed to him. Everyone applauded. The sensei continued until he got to Justin’s group. When all of his group members were standing, the sensei stated that he was disappointed with all members of that group. He felt that they were just going through the motions and didn’t try their hardest. He said he could not promote them at this time.

After class, Justin didn’t say a word as we got into the car, and when we got home, he immediately went to his room and closed the door. I could hear him crying. My heart broke for him; Justin rarely cried. A few days later, we talked about how he felt about not being promoted. He was disappointed; he had not expected to not pass.

Luckily, the sensei gave those students another opportunity, and this time, all the boys were much more focused. Their movements were crisp, they were sharp, and it was evident that every member of the group had taken their earlier failure seriously. They did not want to be embarrassed again. Their sensei told them that this time, they were worthy of being promoted. He shared how he could tell that they were trying their best. That was a hard lesson for a young boy, but Justin learned from it. He realized that if he was going to compete, he needed to be serious. He carried that lesson with him when he competed in tennis, eventually earning a scholarship to play at the University of Hawaii and being selected as one of the captains in his senior year. He led by example. That karate sensei actually did him a favor by teaching him that he needed to put forth his best effort whenever he competed.

Failure is hard, but how we react to it is what will define us. Hopefully, we will see failure as an opportunity to do something better the next time.