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Why I told middle school students to fail more often

My daughter’s middle school recently invited me to address the students during their Me to We Day event. I was asked to speak on overcoming hardship and financial literacy. This is what I told them:

“Today, I’m going to share with you a story about overcoming tragedy – it’s my own story – and two important lessons I learned while working my way through the difficulties, lessons that I share in the book I’ve just published. They revolve around resilience and financial literacy.

The topic of overcoming hardship isn’t a new one for some of you: you may have experienced illness in your family, lost someone you love, been bullied, or struggled in school. All those experiences relate to what I’m about to tell you.

When I was in university, in my twenties, I met a terrific man who later became my husband. There was just one problem: he had cancer. He’d had it for a very long time. We were together for nearly ten years, but when I was thirty-two, I lost him. That was honestly the hardest thing I have ever lived through. To make matters worse, I inherited all the debt from his business. After he died, I realized that I owed nearly $400,000.

Let me say that number again: $400,000.

Just to put this into perspective, I know that some of you earn money babysitting for other families. Let’s assume you’re paid $10 per hour and every time you babysit, you’re there for four hours. To pay off the amount of money that I owed, you would have to babysit 10,000 times!

It seems impossible, doesn’t it? And yet, I paid back every penny in two years.

In working through the process of paying off big debts, and in subsequently studying the factors that play a role in success, here’s what I’ve learned: Every single person who succeeds in life has faced very difficult moments. They had to pick themselves up after a fall or after a failure, and keep going.

Resilience – the ability to keep going in the face of hardship, the willingness to persist through all obstacles – is one of the key determinants of success.

You set your goals and you ignore all those people who laugh at you, the ones who mock you for not being cool, the ones who are not willing to do the work and face challenges with the courage like you do, the ones who are afraid of failure. And you do it because that’s how you succeed.

Here, then, is one of the keys to success: Fail more often, then get back up and keep going.

Dare to make mistakes, because failure is necessary for success. If you never step out of your comfort zone, you will never fully succeed.

The more success you want, the more you need to fail. The trick is to succeed more than you fail. Learn from your mistakes, shake them off – this is where resilience comes in – and move forward.

People say to me, “I’m so sorry that this happened to you,” referring to the loss of my husband and all the debt I was left with. I tell them, “Don’t be.” I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through all those difficulties.

At some point in your life, you will face situations that will test you in ways you cannot even imagine today. Understand that you have everything you need to get through them: in your head and in your heart.

The second, and final, lesson that I’ll share with you today, is on the importance of financial literacy. What do I mean by that? I mean learning how money works and how to do smart things with it.

Would you like to hear the recipe for success when it comes to money? Don’t do what most adults do.

I’m sure your families make sensible choices with money, but here’s what research shows: most Canadian adults spend too much, have too much debt, save too little and invest too little. In short, they are a slave to money, and they have to work for it all of their lives.

People who make wise choices understand that money is a tool. Sure, they work for money, but they also make money work for them. They turn money into their employee instead of being money’s slave.

So how can you be smart with money?

1. Be a saver, not a spender. When you see everyone else spend their money in the cafeteria, be the person who saves money and learns to grow it through investing.

2. Never, EVER, have credit card debt. Credit card debt is a form of loan with insane interest rates. Would you like to know how to go broke very quickly? Keep paying credit card interest. Only buy what you can afford to pay for right now.

3. Be selective about what you spend your money on. Think about how much time it took you to earn that money, then choose wisely. The latest tech toys are fun, but do you really need them? Remember: if all your friends are doing something, it’s probably not a great idea! Avoid the herd mentality.

Being smart with money will help you to create better options for yourself as you move forward.

Let’s finish up by tying this in to ME to WE. This entire organization was built by kids your age who had goals and who kept at them. It took time, resilience, financial resources, and belief.

You can do it too.

Set goals, BIG goals and don’t let anyone bring you down as you work toward them. Believe in yourself, step out of your comfort zone, and don’t worry about what others think. Go use your skills and abilities to change the world.

I know you can.”

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