“Gone Fishing”: Seeking Failure as Opportunity


“We need to give our children more opportunities to build a relationship with failure.” ~  from Making Friends with Failure; Ainissa G. Ramirez, Ph.D., Stanford University, former engineering professor, Yale University

This week I went on my first-ever fishing expedition with a dear friend visiting from NYC. Taking the time to “go fishing” has become one of her priorities, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. We boarded a small boat and headed out on a local lake, equipped with life vests and fishing rods for her two grandsons, also first-timers, ages 3 3/4 and 4 1/2.  IMG_2594

Not knowing what to expect, I simply observed. The day was picture perfect. For the kids it was one for practicing technique and experiencing the craft of fishing. We settled in one spot, and when we didn’t catch anything we journeyed to another location. The boys learned quickly that the day was not going to be about catching fish.

IMG_2631They watched their grandma cast and get her line tangled. She seemed to be having great fun. Each time she varied her method, with little evidence of discouragement. They kept at it, and the boys asked an occasional question, “When are we going to catch something?” Their grandma replied, “If this was about catching, they wouldn’t call it fishing. They’d call it catching.”

Remarkably, no one lost his or her cool. I was astounded. But when I thought about it, I realized that these were two boys who were accustomed to playing on their own. Creatively. They were already used to the idea that things don’t always work out. They held onto their rods and waited for the fish to come.

I looked back to a piece I’d read from the Harvard Business Review, which said,

“If you believe your talent grows with persistence and effort, then you seek failure as an opportunity to improve. People with a growth mindset feel smart when they’re learning, not when they’re flawless.”

 IMG_2520 IMG_2523

All Art forms support the notion that failure is simply part of creating. If one is passionate about what he’s set out to do and knows that it’s the process (as well as the outcome) that counts good things usually follow.

In our case, they did. And the kids felt extremely proud. IMG_2576

As for me, I suddenly understood more about the value of fishing. And I can’t wait to get out on the water again.

If you are a parent or teacher, or haven’t experienced failure enough times to know that not getting it right the first time needs to feel familiar and comfortable, go fishing. My friend has convinced me when she says, “It’s habit forming.” Now I get that it’s just these kinds of habits that are worth forging.


Nancy Harris Frohlich


One thought on ““Gone Fishing”: Seeking Failure as Opportunity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s