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5 Ways to Help Your Teen Face (and Embrace) Failure (Step 7 of the Doable Process)

This week’s post is part of my ongoing series for parents, mentors, teachers, and people who work with teens, in which I offer an inside look at my new book Doable: The Girls’ Guide to Accomplishing Just About Anythingplus share tips for supporting the girls in your life as they work towards their own goals.

In my last post I covered Step 6 of the Doable process: Do the Work, which is about understanding and embracing one’s personal doable style. This post covers Step 7: of the Doable process—DEAL WITH SETBACKS.

Why have a whole step about setbacks? Because they’re an inevitable part of working towards any goal or pursuit, and so it’s critical that teens learn to not only expect setbacks, but embrace them so they don’t derail the whole process of pursuing goals or dreams. As I write in Doable, “No matter how finely planned a pursuit, something is bound to go wrong along the way…it’s just part of the deal.”

So, since failures and setbacks are the cost of doing business, getting past them is an important skill to develop. In this chapter, I present a simple DIY Coaching approach for doing just that. It involves three steps:

  1. Accept that a setback is simply part of the goal-getting journey. By doing this right away, we don’t give the setback too much weight and therefore it’s less likely to put us into a tailspin that will throw us off course.
  2. Allow yourself to experience the emotions tied to the setback or failure in a healthy way. I remind teens that disappointment, frustration, and sadness are appropriate emotions and working through them is great, while “awfulizing” and fixating on extreme emotions like despair doesn’t do any good.
  3. Explore questions to discover the reality of what happened, including: 1) What went wrong? 2) What is my biggest concern? 3) What can I learn from it? 4) What changes can I make to enhance my chances of success?

In the second part of the chapter, I offer 4 reasons why setbacks and failure can actually be beneficial. Again, I believe that shifting one’s thinking about what failure means is critical for becoming someone who takes healthy risks and works towards accomplishing goals and dreams:

Benefit #1 = Failure is feedback. Failure is information that tells us something isn’t working or there’s a better way.

Benefit #2 = Failures and setbacks build grit, a quality studies show is an important part of future success.

Benefit #3 – Failure results in creativity. Failure challenges people to push themselves to come up with creative solutions.

Benefit #4 = Failure begets self-knowledge. Setbacks give you the opportunity to learn about your own ideas and thoughts about failure.


Following are strategies for supporting your teen when things don’t go the way she planned while working towards a goal:

1. Be aware of your teens’ language around setbacks and failure. If you notice “awfulizing” language (I suck at this, I’ll never be able to do this, It’s too hard, etc.), suggest alternative ways to consider the situation that are more curious and optimistic.

2. Resist the urge to problem solve. When things go wrong, rather than jumping in to try to fix everything for your teen, offer to talk things through and be a sounding board for her process of coming up with a new or revised plan.

3. Be aware of your OWN language surrounding setbacks and failures. Every time something doesn’t work out the way you’d like—you burn a batch of cookies, you don’t get accepted to the writing program you applied to, you screw up with a big project at work—your teen is watching, and listening. Check yourself and use appropriate and positive language (Oh well, I guess this project is going to take more work than I thought to get right). It will make a huge impression on your teen and influence how she handles disappointments in her own life.

4. Model and be vocal about your own failures and setbacks. Be open and vulnerable about things you’re working towards, especially when things don’t go the way you’d hoped. By watching you reflect, regroup, and move on, your teen will have an opportunity to see not only how facing setbacks works, but that they are survivable.

5. Bring attention to real-world failures and setbacks. The news is teeming with setbacks—celebrities publicly screwing up, government officials making bad calls, entrepreneur whose inventions don’t pan out, businesses that have to restructured because of a change in the market. Talk about these types of current events over dinner or in the car and together consider ways the situation could be perceived, resolved, or overcome.

In my next blog post, I’ll cover the last step of the Doable process! In the meantime, don’t forget to downloaded your free copy of the DOABLE Workbook, which includes all the quizzes and exercises from the book!

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I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at DOABLE!  If you aren’t already on my email list, I encourage you to sign up below so you don’t miss any of the series!


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