The Secret to Success = The Opportunity to Fail

Last week, the New York Times published a tour de force article by journalist Paul Tough about the importance of being given the opportunity to fail in life.

Entitled What If the Secret to Success is Failure?, the article examines the work of a NYC private school president and the co-founder of the KIPP Network of Charter Schools to identify and instill the character traits in their students that will help predict future success.

An unusually robust thinker, Riverdale school head Dominic Randolph, got together with some of the great minds in ethics and positive psychology to identify a set of strengths that were, according to research done at the University of Pennsylvania, most likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement.

I couldn’t wait to see the list, and will share with you now…

  • Zest | Approaching life with excitement and energy; feeling alive and activated
  • Grit | Finishing what one starts; completing something despite obstacles; a combination of
persistence and resilience.
  • Self-control | Regulating what one feels and does; being self-disciplined
  • Social Intelligence | Being aware of motives and feelings of other people and oneself
  • Gratitude | Awareness of, and thankful for, the good things that happen
  • Optimism | Hopeful about the future
  • Curiosity | Taking an interest in experience for its own sake; finding things fascinating

According to the author, the research showed that “cultivating these strengths represented a reliable path to “the good life” – a life that was not just happy but also meaningful and fulfilling”.

This article certainly resonated with me, especially the importance of being able to overcome negative experiences and allowing those experiences to strengthen you for the future.

Gen Y’s have been taken to task about being coddled by “helicopter parents” – parents who provide too much cushion for failing, thereby depriving their children of powerful lessons.

So, let me ask you…

Do you possess these strengths? Do you believe your failures have helped you grow? Ultimately, has the opportunity to fail helped you become a more successful person? I would love to hear from you!


About the Author: Allison Cheston is a New York City-based career advisor who works with mid-career executives and young adults to help them identify their unique value in the marketplace and explore alternative careers. Allison is the author of an upcoming book In the Driver’s Seat: Work-Life Navigation Skills for Young Adults, to help young adults from late high school through college develop strengths and interests and match them to internships, coursework and, ultimately, the right job.

Cheston blogs frequently on career issues for young adults at her own blog, In the Driver’s Seat as well as at Forbes. She also blogs for mid-career professionals at The Examiner. You can reach Allison on Twitter.

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