Fail Like a Two-Year-Old

On Sunday at church, I sat next to a newly minted two-year-old. And two she was. Full of energy and personality, she had little interest in sitting still. But the secret about two-year-olds is they want to be good. So I leaned over and asked her to fold her arms and be quiet for the prayer.

She folded her little hands, scrunched her eyes shut, and sat perfectly still for a good ten seconds before returning to her normal status as a ball of energy. At the amen, she gave a resounding “Amen” herself, loud enough for the entire congregation to hear.

Now, by all accounts, she failed at staying quiet for the prayer. While the prayer was less than a minute long, she maintained her composure for less than a fifth of that. Her “amen” was adorable but way too loud for our church culture, where amen is more likely to be muttered than shouted.

And yet, she was thrilled with her accomplishment. She had been reverent for a whole ten seconds! Which was ten seconds longer than she had done before.

She failed with joy.

If you’ll recall, failing with joy is one of the foundational principles of improv. You try, you fail, and you go forward with joy. She tried her best, and she celebrated that.

If you’re one of the billions of people who just set New Year’s resolutions, you’re going to fail, and it’s okay. You may only get 10 percent of the way there, and that’s okay as well. Celebrate. You’re 10 percent better than you were in 2023.

Or maybe you’re only one percent better. Or maybe you fall flat on your face and you’re only 99 percent as good as you were last year. Regardless, you fail with joy and try again. Maybe next week, my little two-year-old friend will make it to 11 seconds of reverence. Maybe it will be five seconds. The road to success is rarely a straight path up.

She focused on success.

Often, when we adults fail, we get a lecture–either from our boss, spouse, or, most often, ourselves. In this case, and in most cases, the lecture is unnecessary. She skipped the lecture and was proud of herself for her success, small as it was.

As you go into 2024, you’re going to make mistakes. You’ll take risks that will fail. Skip the lecture, focus on what you did right, and try again. Yes, doing a post-mortem to figure out the mistakes is an effective tool for growth, but only if you use it as a guide for how to improve and not as a punishment for imperfect behavior.

Do your best, celebrate your small improvements, and when necessary, give a loud Amen.

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One thought on “Fail Like a Two-Year-Old

  1. This article does a good job of alluding to the cultures of different organizations and how acting like a 2-year-old in terms of failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Giving the example of the 2-year-old in church shows how success isn’t always measured by taking great steps or leaps, and how small victories should be accounted for. This is relevant for HR managers as setting the company’s culture is vital as people make organizations profitable. Establishing a culture of normalizing failure leads to greater experimentation and innovation among employees. The HR manager must lead by example and establish and use procedures or practices that normalize failure as a learning experiences. Most times when employees or someone fails, a lecture follows which is unnecessary at times and can discourage some. I would like to see your thoughts on how this lesson from the 2-year-old could be applied to HR and organizations. Do you believe HR managers today do not do a good job with this failure is okay mindset?

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