SUCCESS for Teens: No Such Thing as Failure

Anyone who ever did anything truly great failed first. Failure is part of trying. It’s going to happen. What matters is how you deal with it.

Thomas Edison failed thousands of times before he created the incandescent light bulb. Abraham Lincoln was defeated in several government elections before becoming one of the most revered U.S. presidents in history. When Michael Jordan was cut from his high-school basketball team as a sophomore, he went home, locked himself in his room and cried. He became arguably the greatest basketball player of all time.

Failure doesn’t have to be the end. If you let it, failure can be an effective and powerful teacher that ultimately leads to success.

Many teens today don’t understand this. Passing or failing a test, making the team or getting cut, being accepted socially or being ridiculed—teenage life can be confusing and full of pressure, and, sadly, teenagers think it’s easier not to try at all than to face their fear of failure.

But if teens don’t try or take chances, great opportunities for success will pass them by. And having an attitude of avoidance and a fear of risk-taking can ultimately lead teenagers to give up on themselves altogether.

A March 2010 report on the national high-school dropout rate published by Civic Enterprises shows that nearly one-third of all public-high-school students, and almost half of minority students, fail to graduate with their class. The report details the ever-increasing “downward spiral of failure, from boredom in the classroom and occasionally skipping class, to long absences from school, engaging in risky behaviors and becoming part of a subculture that thinks it is cool to drop out.”

Teens who do graduate high school face important decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. It’s an important time for them to know how to properly approach and handle failure. They may be about to experience a lot of it.

How does your teen handle failure? Do you talk to your teen about how he or she can turn failure into a success?

Eighteen-year-old Mark Stumer learned that failure can be a great teacher. He and his friends decided to sell candy and soda in the cafeteria at their school as part of a class assignment.

“We were doing steady business, pulling in between $200 and $300 a week,” Mark says. But soon, Mark and his friends began to experience trouble they didn’t foresee. “We hadn’t put much thought into how we would use our profits,” he says. “We decided that we would spend a portion of our profits to pay our senior dues. And if we made enough of a profit, each of us would receive a small amount of cash. However, arguments about paying senior dues and how to split the extra money became constant issues.”

Finally fed up with all the arguing and stress, Mark and his friends closed the store. Although the store didn’t succeed, Mark says that he and his friends learned a lot of valuable lessons, such as how to work together as a team and how to use spreadsheets and databases, and how important those skills are in running a business. Overall, they got an idea of what types of skills they’d need to develop to be successful in the future. But they wouldn’t have learned any of that had they not taken the risk to run a business that eventually failed.

We are going to experience failure, but no experience in life is wasted if you learn something from it. Make sure your teen knows that failure is just a steppingstone to success.


Sponsored by the SUCCESS Foundation and adapted from the book SUCCESS for Teens™. For more information and to order the book, go to


Leave a Comment