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To My Teenage Daughter: What Failure Teaches Us

Dear Daughter, 

I know it hurts. I know you are reeling right now and can’t understand why. You weren’t picked for an opportunity you wanted, and that I wanted for you, too. I am so proud of you for trying, though. But did you know that I am even prouder of you for failing?

I stopped typing and read the sentences I had just written. I was writing a letter to my 13-year-old daughter after she had received a rejection letter from her middle school. She had applied to be a youth counselor and was not selected.

You know the kind of form letter she got. We have all received one. “Thank you for your application, but…” they start. “We had an abundance of qualified candidates this year and a limited number of spaces,” they end.

No matter how it is worded, or how it is presented, a form letter like that hurts. Dealing with failure always hurts. My daughter cried when she read it.

I felt her pain and poured out my thoughts into this letter. When I tried to tell her in person how much I loved her and was proud of her, she was not in a place to hear what I was saying.

Maybe this letter would work better.

It’s so easy for everyone to say, “It’s better to try and fail, than not try at all.” But do they remember how much it hurts to try and fail? Probably not.

It takes so much guts to fail at something. To get hurt and get back up again.

Can I tell you that one day you will be grateful for this failure? That’s because you will learn so much from it, my sweet girl.

That failure can happen to you.

That you are braver than you thought.

That it hurts, yes, but that you will go on.

That your skin has grown thicker and will protect you better when you fail the next time. Because there will be a next time.

I know you were worthy of this opportunity. You know you were worthy of this opportunity. But nobody ever said life was fair. Did I tell you Grandpa used to say this to me all the time when I was growing up? It’s kinda annoying, I know, but it’s true.

I paused, smiling at the image of my father telling me, “Nobody ever said life was fair.” I never smiled when I was younger, but I recognize his wisdom now. One day I hope my daughter would recognize this wisdom, too.

My lovely daughter, if you had been picked, you might not learn to work harder for such an opportunity the next time. You might not learn that you can persevere when all you really want to do is give up. Trust me, these qualities will serve you so well in the real world.

I hope that you are brave enough to try again. More importantly, I hope that you are brave enough to fail again.

And when you fail again, I’ll be there to surround you with a hug, pick you up, and gently push you to try again.

I promise you, too, that one day you will succeed. It will feel amazing and you will appreciate it so much, knowing that you succeeded because your strong, courageous heart didn’t give up.

I paused one last time. Oh, how I hope that my teen will embrace her failure and learn to go on. Oh, how I hope that she knows how much I love her, feel her pain, and admire her strength. I finished the letter, hoping its encouragement and truth would replace the hurt from the form letter she received and the failure she felt.

My daughter, I’m so proud that you tried and failed.

I love you,


Katy M. Clark is a writer who embraces her imperfections as a mom at Experienced Bad Mom. You can follow her on Facebook, TwitterPinterest and Instagram.

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