Sometimes We Have to Fail in Order to Succeed...

ADDA Health Guide
  • I remember when my now 22-year old son was a junior in high school. At that time his special ed case manager and I made a very difficult decision: to let him fail geometry. Our hope was that he would learn a valuable lesson from the experience. You see, he was not doing what he needed to do to pass the class; wasn't holding up his part of the bargain by doing his best. What's worse, he was not taking responsibility for his actions, continually blaming his much reviled teacher. 


    Any time we challenged him on his poor test grades, missing homework or ‘missed' tutoring sessions, his response was that the teacher wasn't following his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) so, why bother? Now, never let it be said that my son is not clever. He was well aware that technically, the teacher couldn't fail him - or at least he could get the failure reversed - if the IEP wasn't being followed, so he didn't bother to put forth any effort. And to tell the truth, the teacher was pretty awful; not providing the proper support, accommodations and modifications called for in the IEP.

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    But Angela, his case manager and I decided that while the teacher was in the wrong, it was more important that Perry learn that he had to pull his weight and meet his responsibilities as well. After all, I'd never allowed his ADHD to become an excuse for bad behavior, and in my eyes, this was not much different. I would not help him to use ADHD as either a crutch or convenient excuse for not trying his hardest, whether innocently done or calculatingly, as in this case.


    Why he failed is not the point. The fact is, there are always lessons to be learned from failures... no matter how difficult they are to handle - that's the really important point.  And as important an insight as that may be for children, particularly those with special needs, it is even more important for adults with ADHD like you and me.


    Mistakes, failures and setbacks are inevitable; processing them is the way we learn. When I'm honest with myself, it's obvious all the important things I've learned in life have been lessons from my failures. When I failed college the first time around, I learned that, a) I couldn't be the perfect daughter/student/girlfriend/fill-in-the-blank that I'd always pretended to be, and that, b) I am loved anyway.


    When I struggled at one job... and was finally invited to look for another position, I learned that sometimes it's ok to admit you need help; in fact it's the smart, grown-up thing to do. That lesson was really brought home when the work I had been doing on my own was split up between FOUR other people. I had been sufficiently ill-advised and insecure enough about my worth to allow all those responsibilities to be heaped on my shoulders gladly and without demur.


    When I finally filed for divorce from my drug-addict-husband at the insistence of our children, I learned many, many lessons; children often see things adults don't. When someone shows you who they are, believe them; true friends will always be there to rally around you; I'm WAY stronger than I ever thought I could be, and perhaps most importantly; sometimes what seems like a roadblock in life's journey is actually a stepping stone to a better life - if I'm willing to recognize it.


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    My latest life failure - the post-divorce disaster otherwise know as My Finances, has taught me lessons particularly important for an adult with ADHD: Problems don't go away when you neglect them; procrastination generally makes things worse, not better; people are usually willing and ready to help if you can take the first step and admit that you need it. 


    I've also learned another important but unexpected lesson... don't screw up your finances, because you really CAN'T go home again, at least not comfortably. And even if you are forty-something years old, with adult children of your own, you will always be a child in your mother's eyes, in her home, (dating while living with a teenage son in my mother's house is a whole SERIES of blog posts that I may risk writing sometime in the future!)


    And just as the lessons we learn from our mistakes are often surprising, sometimes the actual failures come as a surprise as well - even when they really shouldn't be, as all the signs were right there. It has certainly been the case for me. And let me tell you, Perry was more than a little shocked to see that F on his grade sheet - and even more surprised when he couldn't convince us to get it removed from his record.  Now, to be utterly frank, I'm not sure Perry learned the lessons about responsibility, doing his best, etc. etc. that we had hoped he would from this experience. 


    What he did learn, though, was that he never wanted to fail another class, because he had to make it up, at our neighborhood high school, during night classes when, what are known as, ‘alternative' students attended class. The AD/HD, education and child advocate part of me thinks of those students as failed by the system; the mother whose completely NOT street smart kid was scared to death that one day he'd go sailing out the classroom window, as desks often do, considers them gang-banging juvenile delinquents...  whoever said life wasn't full of contradictions!


    Sometimes, the lessons we learn from our failures aren't deep, philosophical, or the impetus for major paradigm shifts in the way we think, act and live. Sometimes, we learn that some mistakes were simply too stupid - and their consequences so harsh - they are just not worth repeating. For me, poor financial management and failing geometry are two such mistakes that come immediately to mind!


    Peace and Love,



Published On: April 30, 2008