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By Kellie Mox
As far as I’m concerned, my eleven-year-old daughter has two assignments for sixth grade: learn how to ask for (and accept) help, and learn how to tolerate frustration.
While she’s focused on getting the right answer on fractions or in physics, I’m focused on life lessons. Of course, I want her to master the material she must know to comfortably navigate seventh grade. But I also believe that when we focus solely on an end result, we miss out on powerful lessons along the way. In general, I find that the opportunities for learning that present themselves in our daily life are many, and these learnings are often more impactful long-term than getting the grade, making the team, closing the sale, or hitting our personal record. This perspective focuses equally, if not more, on process over product, and it embraces mistakes as occasions for growth. This, I believe, will support my daughter not only in her education, but also in her career, her relationships, and her overall wellness. To me, this kind of learning signals the ultimate success and goal achievement.
This school of thought didn’t come naturally for me. I was born a type-A overachiever with a tendency to focus on results — the grade, the accolade, the blood test result, or whatever external “thing” validated my achievement. Rather than looking at mistakes or challenges as opportunities for learning, I saw them as failures to be avoided. So I pushed myself with an unrelenting focus to achieve whatever goal I’d set. But this didn’t serve me for long; in fact, it was a big part of what made me fertile ground for chronic illness.
Thankfully, my life offered me opportunities to shift this unhealthy pattern through coaching, parenting, and healing. But when I say “shift,” I don’t mean that I’ve mastered this approach or have nothing left to learn. I mean that I’m aware of my tendencies, and I notice more readily when I’ve lost sight of the learning so that I can bring my attention back to it.
There is no failure, only learning. This was the mantra in my coach training program sixteen years ago, and it echoes in my life every day. I know first-hand how hard it can be to integrate this mantra into one’s life as I practice applying it in healing, parenting, and growing a business. I also know its power. I’ve seen profound shifts in myself and others in physical, mental, and emotional health when our process is valued as much as our product, and when we wholeheartedly embrace the notion that failure is just a lesson in disguise. The bonus is that, more often than not, our desired results come even faster when we’re in pursuit of our learning.
So how do we begin to shed our old stories of what it means to achieve our goals, to succeed, to get results? How do we begin to fully embrace learning as a goal unto itself? I have a few ideas to share.
Explore Your Underlying Beliefs
While our beliefs feel true for us, they are ultimately neither true nor false. We grow in our self-awareness when we regularly explore and re-evaluate our beliefs, and this is a critical component for growth and healing. Beliefs have the potential to keep us stuck in narratives that no longer serve us — or to catapult us into more empowering stories that allow for new possibilities.
For a long time I believed that I was not OK, or in other words, not enough. This looked like consistently seeking validation outside myself and striving for the next achievement that would reinforce my enough-ness. It drove me to be laser-focused on achieving, sometimes at my own expense. When I became aware of this old belief and began the work of shifting it, I was able to give myself permission to slow down, to struggle, and to fail. I was able to perceive the lessons in challenges that were, not coincidentally, offering me opportunities to see my own worth in the absence of any achievement.
Shift Your Expectations
It’s a normal human experience to have expectations. I admit that I’m a person of high expectations for myself and others, and this can be both a strength and a challenge. Shifting expectations doesn’t mean abandoning them, and it certainly doesn’t mean letting go of intentions or boundaries. Rather, it means opening to new possibilities, letting go of arbitrary timelines, and rewiring old circuitry in the brain by pausing and changing course.
It’s true that I’ve had to stop myself numerous times from assisting my daughter with a math problem when she’s frustrated and feeling a sense of failure. Somewhere in me, a teenage girl is expected to hand in completed, accurate homework, while somewhere else, a mother is expected to ease her daughter’s pain. Every time I stop myself and instead remind my daughter that it’s OK for a problem to be challenging, that learning how to do the problem is more important than getting it right the first time, that speaking up and asking for help from her teacher is important, I am shifting my own expectations and shifting the wiring for both of us so that we can embrace the learning as the goal.
Focus on Practice
It takes practice to pursue your learning as diligently as you pursue your results. If you want to rewire your brain (that’s what we’re doing when we learn anything new), practice is the only way forward. You can’t build strength in your biceps without regular weight-bearing exercise. Similarly, you can’t create new neural pathways that are comfortable with risking failure for the sake of learning without regular practice in your real life. Self-awareness is the foundation. This allows us to step back and watch our internal dialogue or observe our feelings. Only then do we have the opportunity to flip our self-talk by writing new dialogue that reinforces our desire to embrace growth and learning as the goal.
Asking powerful questions can also be helpful. What can I learn from this? How might this be serving me? What if this challenge is here to teach me? I encourage you to try these questions on, over and over again, and really experience what it feels like to learn from all of it — the perceived failures and the easy wins. When you’re open to learning and begin applying that learning in your everyday life, that’s when the real magic happens.
We all have lessons to learn. Life brings us opportunities to learn those lessons over and over again on progressively deeper levels. But we have to prioritize the learning, which may mean letting go of old beliefs and shifting expectations. And it always requires practice. In my experience, the universe offers remarkable gifts disguised as failures or challenges, which we might miss if we’re overly attached to a result, a timeline, or the rules of the ego. To be sure, the lessons my daughter is learning right now are still somewhat clouded by the eleven-year-old ego, but those lessons will come around again and again. And it’s not lost on me that these lessons are my lessons, too, offered up in a new way for me to learn them once more.
Kellie Mox catalyzes revolutionary healing for women through powerful conversations and whole-health mentoring. She is passionate about authentic, meaningful connections—to the self, others, and the world—and believes that healing flourishes when we strengthen these connections and embrace our wholeness.
Kellie is a certified coach and a student of homeopathic medicine with a master’s in health behavior and health education. She works with women virtually and in-person from her home base in Ann Arbor, Michigan.