Success and failure: Lessons from a four-year-old

Photo by Zen Chung from Pexels

In Karen Fowler’s book We are all completely beside ourselves, the main character (Rosemary Cooke) recalls an apple tree from her childhood. Her older siblings used it to climb in and out of their bedroom. Rosemary was only four years old. She could not climb up as she could not reach the lowest branch, so she went upstairs and climbed down.

Unfortunately, she fell and broke her collarbone. Her mother, predictably, shouted, ‘You could have killed yourself.’

Rosemary was disappointed that no one seemed to notice she had climbed almost the whole way down.

Her father asked her what she had learned. She didn’t have the words at the time. It was only much later that she was able to articulate it: ‘What you accomplish will never matter so much as where you fail.’

A true lesson, but how tragic when, in the workplace, failure is all we see.

Focussing on failure demotivates and discourages.

Celebrate small wins as they occur. Then, when failure does get in the way, there is a history of successes to balance the conversation.

And when employees do fail, learn to ask the father’s question: ‘What did you learn?’


How do you respond to the successes (and failures) of others?

Let us know in the comments.


Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people, people-management consulting and writing and editing.

Have your say; join the discussion ....