The fantastic Gifted Problems Tumblr posted this exchange last week, and it stopped me in my tracks. It’s really rare that someone takes a descriptive challenge that has approximated nailing custard to a wall for decades and says, “here, let me pop that in the freezer for an hour, and put it in a frame. By the way, here’s a pair of picture hangers and a tack hammer.” But, indirectly, that’s just what this exchange did: neatly hang a problem that haunts many gifted kids (and adults). When you do something right, it’s because of your ‘giftedness’ – as if it were one of Allie Brosh’s Alots, a beast that sits apart from you and does amazing things. When you do something wrong, however…well, that’s entirely on you.

That, in turn, has a lot to do with how we perceive failure – and gifted individuals deal with a great deal of failure in a lifetime, regardless of what the popular belief might be. We fail at large goals and small, otherwordly attempts and mundane tasks. We fail over and over again. But if we allow kids even a hint of owning the schism that’s hinted at in the Gifted Problems exchange – that credit for our triumphs is due our ‘condition,’ while blame for our failures is due ‘ourselves,’ we’re pointing them down the wrong road. Triumph and failure belong to our fully integrated selves: I own both, for better or worse.

There’s more of the ‘better’ in that last sentence than you might initially think. Failure’s important for everyone in life, and GT kids (and adults) are no exception. Failure can do so much more for us, in many ways, than success can: it can teach, it can provoke, it can inquire, it can test. Failing at anything will tell you everything you need to know about your relationship with that activity. Specifically, how failure feels in each of its instances provides us with deep and rich insight into our passion level for trying again.

And that feeling is unique to each specific failure. There are a million flavors of failure for GT kids (and adults). In much the same way that the Inuit have a dizzying array of words for snow,  I like to think of failures in very specific and individual ways; not every failure is a garden-variety one. Here’s just a few of my favorite varieties.

  • Fehlure: failing at something you’re expected to be good at, simply because you couldn’t care less about it.
  • Fauxlure: actually pretending to be terrible at something just so people will stop asking you to do it for them.
  • Frailure: a stunning-upset failure at something you’re normally good at, simply because you’ve been stretched thin doing everything else.
  • Flailure: being tossed into something you’ve never done before and being expected to do well at it, despite having no experience at all.
  • Foelure: a bitter draught, this one involves failing at something high-profile in the presence of your sworn nemesis or arch-enemy.
  • Foolure: a close cousin to fauxlure, but in this case, you’re hiding some genuine skills you’ll pull out at the eleventh hour.
  • Feelure: another close cousin to fauxlure; this time, you’re not going to do it because normally you’d be paid to do it.
  • Feylure: expectations aside, nothing short of being able to do actual magic would have saved this one from being a disaster.
  • Feralure: you’ve abandoned any pretense of trying to pull this one out with skill and intellect, and now you’re just going at it with brute force
  • Freelure: the end state of fauxlure, when you’re finally left alone from being asked to do whatever it is.

My favorite, however, is fillure. Fillure is a failure that immediately floods you with confidence, inspiration, and excitement; that’s not how it’s done, fillure quietly informs, but you’re on the right track. Fillure pulls you to your feet and sends you back to the keyboard or the kitchen, the rink or the research, with renewed vigor. When you’ve found fillure in your life, you’ve probably found your passion – or at least one of them. And over time, as you say it aloud, it really does start to sound a lot less like failure…and a whole lot more like its own condition.

To my own kids, and to all GT kids (and, really,everyone), then, I would say: know your snow. Not every snowfall is a travail, and not every failure is a disaster. For the Inuit, auniq (“ice that is filled with holes, like Swiss cheese”) is a danger; matsaaruti (“‘wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh’s runners”) is a tool. Failure will present itself over and over again, sometimes as a trap, sometimes as a test, sometimes as a teacher, and sometimes as a tool. Greet it on your own terms, name it in the moment for the role it possesses in that moment – and know that this meeting will not be the last.

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