How My Neighbor’s 3-Year-Old Taught Me To Deal With Failure
Spending time with Ruhan — my neighbor’s chirpy, vivacious three-year-old — is the highlight of my day.
Not only does he call me “Ana aunty” in his cute baby voice, but he also asks these insanely insightful questions that often leave me fumbling for answers.
The most interesting lesson I’ve learned from him is how he deals with failure.
Earlier today, when I was busy playing with him, Ruhan was trying to build something out of his lego blocks. I asked him what he was building. “Airport,” he told me.
His enthusiasm was contagious. I found myself following his instructions — handing him the color blocks he asked for and trying to balance the structure, precarious as it was.
Our airport was almost two feet high when the whole structure toppled. I made a sad face. But Ruhan only giggled, his eyes lighting up with happiness. It’s hard to see an adult’s face light up like that, but his did — with pure, unadulterated joy.
He wasn’t sad at all.
Instead, he started picking up the blocks with his tiny fingers and assembling them together again. I noticed he placed it differently from the previous orientation.
My brain is hard-wired as a civil engineer. I could see they fit together better and would have a stronger resisting moment than the toppling moment. Sure enough, the airport was taller this time around.
Each time, the building toppled, and each time Ruhan picked the blocks up and started rebuilding his airport. Each time, he had that lovely smile on his face.
Ruhan’s smile and his perseverance taught me some life-changing lessons on dealing with failure. This article is about them. I won’t tell you how you can apply these lessons. Instead, I'll tell you the stories and leave them to your imagination.
You’re entitled to an opinion. I’d love to hear what you think.
You never fail. You experiment.
Each time the building blocks toppled and crashed down, Ruhan learned a new way to fit them together.
He didn’t see the crash as a failure, rather an experiment: a chance to learn something new. Each experiment was a valuable lesson in disguise.
Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times…
…if one only remembers to turn on the light.
No, I’m not quoting Albus Dumbledore. I’m sharing how Ruhan’s face lit up with happiness each time the building toppled. The experiment wasn’t only a lesson; it was also a chance to start again, to build it from scratch.
He didn’t get demotivated. He didn’t get sad. He genuinely enjoyed the process. His happiness wasn’t dictated by the outcome alone.
The future remains uncertain.
Ruhan tried, failed, tried again, and kept trying. Each time he tried anew, the chances for success were equal to the chances of failure. Going by pure mathematics, the number of times he’d failed didn’t determine whether he would succeed in this new endeavor.
It added to his experience. He knew of more ways the task shouldn’t be done. Eventually, he’d succeed.
A single failure didn’t decide his future at the game.
One failure doesn’t define your identity. It doesn’t hang around your neck like a load. It doesn’t weigh you down, nor does it slow your progress.
Failures are but experiments. They teach you valuable lessons and remain with you as a reminder of what not to do the next time you attempt something similar.
They’d cease to matter the moment you stop attaching so much value to the outcome and get used to loving the process.
A perspective shift is all you need to redefine “failure.” Sometimes, thinking like a three-year-old might be the smartest move.
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