Not so very long ago, at the ripe age of eight, I told my mother that I wanted to try out for a local production of the musical Annie. Mind you, I had never tried out for anything before. But, it didn’t seem like that complicated of a process in my young mind. So, my mother and I solicited the help of my Aunt Patty to play the piano for me, picked a song, and put audition prep in motion for the big day. I was pretty confident in how I thought the whole thing worked and my mom and aunt happily went along.
On the day of the audition, my aunt picked me up and the two of us drove to the theater. When the director opened the door to let me in, she informed us that the audition was meant to be acapella, and my aunt could not accompany me into the room to play the piano.
In that moment, I became a zombie.
Three directors sat on one side of the room behind a table and they sent me to stand on the other side of the room, alone without a friend or even a chair. I shuffled to the designated spot on the carpet, turned to look at them, and froze. They asked me to start my song. I stared at the wall above their heads. They looked at the title of the song I was supposed to sing and again asked me to sing. I stared at wall above their heads. They started singing the first line, trying to cajole me back to reality. I stared at the wall above their heads. All the words, the melody, and rhythm had completely left me.
Before long, I was back home in my kitchen crying to my mother. I had never been so scared or so ashamed in my short life. Needless to say, I was not cast as a singing, dancing, red-headed Annie, or even an orphan in the back row.
She let me fail.
I cried and she agreed that it was terrible and hard and how did we get such an important detail of the audition wrong in our prep, but in the end, she let me fail. She didn’t drive me back to the theater and demand they let me try again. She didn’t call the directors and insist that their instructions weren’t clear and it was their fault. She didn’t get mad that my aunt wasn’t more assertive about me needing accompaniment. She didn’t blame anyone else or try to rescue me from my heartbreak.
She let me cry as long as I needed and a year later, she took me back to those same directors better prepared to try out for The King and I. And you know what, I sang my heart out that day and was cast as a very adorable child to the King of Siam.
Now as I am raising my own children, I realize what self-restraint my mother’s actions must have required. When your child hurts, it is biologically ingrained in us to make it better. Sometimes though, children learn the best lessons when they struggle. When stakes are low and the biggest consequence is that a child doesn’t get a part in a play, the lessons learned can be so impacting and important when that same child applies to college, interviews for a career building job, or faces a high stake job review.
Knowing and experiencing failure helps children learn how to plan for success. Parents, don’t protect your children from the lessons of failure. As my mother did, let them cry, and then help them get back up and make a plan, but don’t shield them from a panicked moment of stage fright. The result is a child who becomes an adult who takes personal responsibility and ownership of their life experiences.
And, you better believe I never forgot the words to an audition song again.