Rhodri Marsden: Why I'm hereby designating today to be Failure Day

Life on Marsden
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The Independent Online

Not everything goes the way we want it to. Once I mistimed the boiling of an egg. Another time I fell in a pond. It's been a crazy life. And as the failures mounted up, I became wiser. Failure, I realised, provides me with a helpful reminder that I'm fallible, that other people are better at boiling eggs or not falling in ponds, and that this is OK. My dad began teaching me this at a very young age by sitting the family down and repeatedly crushing us in merciless games of Monopoly. Once you've been exposed to the humiliation of being bankrupted by your unsmiling father on a rainy Sunday, you can take pretty much anything life throws at you.

For example, I remember feeling quite relaxed when took my first driving test, despite being pretty certain that I'd fail. The examiner introduced himself as Trevor, and said "What would you like me to call you?" I said, "How about 'Trevor'?". He looked at his sheet and said, rather sternly, "That might get confusing." It went downhill from there.

But the realisation that we're not very good at something can be tough. Take those kids on the Channel 4 show Child Genius. Many of them, on failing to construct a molecular representation of muesli in 30 seconds or whatever, would immediately burst into tears, because no-one ever told them that failure was OK. That there definitely is such a word as "can't". And "incapable", and "incompetent", and "inept". I was talking to a primary school teacher about this at the weekend, and he told me that at his school they had regular Failure Days. "Failure Days?" "Yep. We set them challenges that they stand no chance of achieving. Obviously we don't tell them if it's Failure Day. That would defeat the object."

I loved this idea. There are plenty of adults who could benefit from it, I reckon, and I pondered setting up a Failure Consultancy, charging big bucks to present Failure Days to corporate clients. But I can't be bothered. Someone else can do that. Instead, I'm hereby designating today Failure Day. 9 July. Assign yourself an impossible task – inventing penicillin, befriending a spider, eating Kilimanjaro – then sit with it. Say to yourself: "I can't." Embrace the failure.

OK, that's good, well done. And rest. Next session we'll be exploring your relationship with your mother.