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The Toddler CEO: A Success Story

Updated on May 7, 2012

Every toddler knows instinctively what we as adults have forgotten. I have called this The Toddler Principle: The sooner you start failing, the sooner you can succeed. In other words, the only way to get from crawling to walking is to fall, get up, fall, get up (doing it better) and so on until you succeed and are able to get where you want to go faster and more efficiently.

When my daughter was very young and wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle, she picked a time when I was in the middle of a big project and so I was only able to help her in our long driveway for a few minutes. She was determined to learn and unknown to me, kept working at it. After a half hour or so she came bursting in the door crying: "Daddy come look!" She took me outside where she mounted the bike all by herself and rode down the driveway. I was flabbergasted as well as extremely proud and blurted out: "Sara, how did you do that?" Her answer was unlike anything I had ever heard and nothing like what I expected. She pointed at two green shrubs at either side of the driveway and said: "First I fell into that bush and then I fell into that bush." Her little face beamed up at me as if I would totally get her explanation--which I did. She knew from her toddler days that the quickest way to master a new skill was to be willing to fail at it as many times as it took to master it.

When you are learning to juggle three balls, one of the common difficulties is not throwing the 3rd ball because you are so worried about dropping the 2nd ball. Experts will tell you to concentrate on throwing the 3rd ball and forget about catching the 2nd ball at first. In other words, incorporate failure as a part of the process of learning to succeed.

My stepson is a gifted thinker and communicator and wanted to branch out into sports. He chose track and found himself excelling at the two hardest events--high hurdles and pole vaulting. I asked him how he came to choose those and he replied: "I was the only one not afraid to fall." Hearing those words reminded me of my daughter's experience and reinforced my "Toddler Principle." The closest distance between two points--a goal and success, is through a path of falling and getting up, of failing and learning and eventually succeeding.

Why do I use the toddler to teach us the secrets of success? A 3-year-old toddler's brain is twice as active as an adult's brain forming over 1000 trillion connections. The toddler is a "supersponge" gaining experience at an incredible rate, mostly by making mistakes and learning from them. As an adult they "prune" the ones that are not meaningful or necessary. While adults may not be able to absorb as much as in their supersponge stage, the process is the same. Want to become a more qualified person, learn a new skill, create a business--harness the incredible Toddler Principle.

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work. ~ Thomas Alva Edison

We often work harder not to fail than we do to win or succeed. If we put as much energy into trying as we do into "not failing" our lives would be a lot different. Taking the safe option every time leads to a habit of fighting for a negative goal instead of fighting for a positive one.

Consider the toddler. One of the characteristics of the toddler (much to the dismay of their parents) is a seeming disregard of fear. The toddler has not learned that failing is wrong or something to be feared. On the contrary, when the toddler wants to do something, to reach a toy, or anything interesting or to move toward a parent, dog or another child, they let nothing deter them from trying. Rick Warren, the author of the largest selling hardback in human history, The Purpose Driven Life, describes many whose lives are on hold: We hate to admit we have fears because we think they're a sign of weakness. But fear is a sign of humanity. Only fools are not afraid. You've heard it said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, it's moving ahead in spite of our fears."

Do one thing every day that scares you. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

When did we learn that trying and failing was wrong or something to be feared? Was it pain? Fear of rejection? Was it embarrassment? Making mistakes? Was it shame? Many adults who were fearless as toddlers are cautious and timid when it comes to social situations, career choices, or romantic relationships. Somewhere in your past there was something that bothered you enough that your mind always goes to that dark place of self doubt and convinces you not to try.

When my oldest son was two he was fearless. Whatever he saw us do he felt he could do it too--mow the lawn, plug in and fill appliances, chase the cat with his own "Comet" version of flea powder all over the house. As a responsible parent, I had to tell him about the dangers of electricity and lawn equipment but I tried to do it in a way that didn't make him ashamed or afraid. Unfortunately the fear of many parents comes through as "Don't EVER do that again, you could be KILLED!" or "You should be ASHAMED of what you did!" What is almost worst is the subtle things that parents or peers say: "You don't have the grades for that college." or "You don't want to pursue that career you aren't suited for it." At some point in this constant scolding or shaming or belittling, we learn to see ourselves as incapable and think we will look bad or be laughed at if we try something hard or new.

Many great ideas have been lost because people who had them could not stand being laughed at. ~ Anonymous

Apply the Toddler Principle to regain our "can do" attitude. You would think that being delivered from slavery in Egypt and walking on dry land between walls of water through the Red Sea would give anyone confidence, but when it was time for the children of Israel to enter their promised land, it was a big problem. They sent in twelve spies. Two of them, Joshua and Caleb, said "Let's go, we can handle those guys!" while the others said "We were like grasshoppers in their sight." The problem was not how their enemies viewed them but how they viewed themselves. They felt like grasshoppers and assumed the enemies saw them the same way. The truth is the enemy had heard about Egypt and the Red Sea and they were trembling in their boots. Because the group followed the negative attitude, forty years went by before they marched in, led by the only two remaining spies--guess who--Joshua and Caleb.

If your life is free from failure, you’re not taking enough risks. ~ Anonymous

What Would the Toddler Do?

Toddlers know how to ask for help. If you don't have the resources, take a lesson from the toddler--ever see one afraid to ask for help? Get people to invest in your project and get them involved. When others invest in something they will want to help you so don’t be afraid to ask. You don't know everything and it will kill you if you try to do everything yourself.

Toddlers break things into manageable steps. Trying to build your project all at once is too difficult and takes too much time. Doing it piece by piece with small steps will give you the confidence to tackle harder tasks.

Toddlers don't take failure personally. If I only get across this one concept in this article, I will have succeeded. It's not about you, it's about reaching the goal. Focus on learning from your failures, not on how you look doing it.

Toddlers never worry about their age. If you think that you are too young or too old to accomplish something difficult, watch a toddler. They don't know they are too young to do something until they are told so by adults. Even then that rarely stops them.
Toddlers don't worry about lack of experience--they are the most phenomenal experience acquiring machines in the world. They achieve bursts of learning and develop capabilities like no other time in their life starting with a bare minimum of experience. The amazing truth is that if you don't have enough experience to start a business, start one and you will have more valuable experience than you would gain in the workforce. Starting something yourself helps keep you from becoming the kind of person who always needs someone to tell them what to do.

Toddlers have no shortage of motivation. If you feel you lack the necessary motivation or perseverance to make it to your goal, watch a toddler keep at something until he achieves it. In fact, those toddlers who are helped with everything and given everything grow up to be entitled underachievers.

Toddlers rarely think they are not smart enough. If you feel you don't have the intelligence or enough knowledge to do the great thing, take a lesson from toddlers--they learn more by trying and failing than most adults learn through accepted institutional methods.

Toddlers aren't fazed by criticism. If people disparage your ideas and tell you they won't work, consider that toddlers start every endeavor with the field all to themselves--no one expects them to be able to do anything and when they do accomplish something the adults all crowd around and make a big deal out of it. The toddler principle tells us that there is no shame in failure so quit worrying about what others think. If you give it everything you've got, no one that matters, your family, real friends, your investors even your next employer--none of them will blame you if your business fails.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again

Toddlers don't like to be told what to do. If you are just letting the idea that you are one of those who need someone to tell them what to do as an excuse, listen carefully. Take a chance, make some mistakes, do it now!

Toddlers don't fall back on things they already know. They don't know anything yet so it never stops them from trying something new. My youngest son was a whiz at math. It came easily to him and while others were struggling to memorize the flash cards, he would just figure it out the way he always had. Trouble was, as soon as the less gifted students memorized their math facts, they were zooming ahead of him. He learned that the try and fail process of memorization was superior to falling back on his familiar skills.

Toddlers are not bothered by not knowing what will happen. Is the unknown stopping you? Good. I'll save you some trouble--you'll fail. Probably right away. The good news is you will know more and fail less and pretty soon you will know that success will happen--not because someone told you but because you learned from your mistakes and became your own success model. If you still need a little push, research your project and write down the possible worst-case scenarios. Understanding is more powerful than fear.

The Benefits of Failure

1.You learn what not to do. Edison said that each time his filament failed it was just another one he could mark off his list to try. What is even more valuable, you can use what you learned on your earlier attempts to help you do it right the next time.

2. Each attempt is an opportunity for growth. The experience and knowledge you gain, even if it costs you time or money can far outweigh what you lose.

3. You did something. Dylan Thomas said that most men live lives of quiet desperation. I have to wonder if it is because of regret for not attempting anything toward a goal. The best way to reduce your fear and build confidence is to do the hard thing which is usually just to take some action.

4. It increases your odds of winning. Each failure brings you closer to your goal.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: "It might have been!" ~ John Greenleaf Whittier

There are few things sadder than missed opportunities. How many people have you heard say "I could have bought this piece of real estate for some amazingly low price a few years ago and I should have." How many of us knew how cool Google was when we were first using it, but the failure of other dot com companies made us decide not to buy stock. How many people have you heard say "I could have been a professional singer, athlete, successful business leader etc." and are now mired in regret or envy because they were afraid to fail? William Shakespeare penned the famous quote: There is a tide in the affairs of men, when taken at (its peak) leads on to fortune, omitted, all the voyages of their life is spent in shallows and miseries.

You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody. ~ Marlon Brando "On the Waterfront."

Because of your inexperience you will make a lot of mistakes which will give you the experience you will need when you try it again. When you work for someone else, you are rarely given the freedom to make mistakes, so if you have an idea you want to develop, don't let inexperience stop you. Sure, you'll probably fail, but even failure moves you closer to your goal faster than sitting in a cubicle wishing you were doing something else.

Hope for the best, but expect the worst. In the worst case, it will at least be interesting. In the best case you might get rich. ~ Paul Graham


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    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Lisa, thank you for the encouraging words. You are right about it being a world view. The way we see our world makes all the difference--if we see it as a scary, formidable place to be avoided, we miss our destiny, if we see it as a treasure chest to be explored and experienced, we live all our lives in perpetual delight. =:)

    • Lisas-thoughts101 profile image


      6 years ago from Northeast Texas

      Winsome, I love that you call this the toddler principle. It is so apt. I never really looked at it that way. Thank you for giving me a new world view. I also loved the story of how your daughter learned to ride a bike. Great Hub!!

      Take care,


    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Thanks IYaH, I did read your very funny article and am glad you enjoyed this one. If adults could regain some of the fearlessness of the toddler or your "Jenn," we would see some great things happening. Thanks again for stopping by. =:)

    • ImYoungAtHeart profile image


      7 years ago from midwest US

      I loved this hub. I'm a preschool teacher and it reveals so much of what our parents could learn from our little ones. You might enjoy one of my hubs called Some Days Are Like That about how bad a day at preschool can really be lol.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Kristy, I'm so glad you read this one. I think our best works are the ones we resonate most strongly with. I love that age in children and I love it when I see the same attitude in adults. I am happy it inspired you, it did me too as I read it again. Thanks DK, I appreciate your comments. =:)

    • Doctor Kristy profile image

      Kristy Callan 

      7 years ago from Australia

      This was a very uplifting article. I feel inspired now.

      Your daughter sounds really cute- I can imagine her explaining calmly how she fell into the bushes.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Ha ha, I think you are still a toddler in all the best ways. You didn't listen when others said you can't do that or that's too hard--bravo. I really appreciate you stopping by and your warm approbation. I will be laughing at more of yours soon. =:)

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 

      7 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      That is SWEET! You have it all! I laughed, I thought, I thought you are right!! I so miss that age:-) oh I mean in my kids, I'm still a toddler:-). THANKS

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi R, thank you for your kind comment and for reading. Often we hold back from our destiny because of fear borrowed from other people. When we examine ourselves we usually find that we have more courage than we think. =:)

    • RTalloni profile image


      7 years ago from the short journey

      Step-by-step, moving forward... Great hub!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Ana, how kind you are. I know your book will be wonderful. One of the ways we can recapture the willingness to take risks and proactively learn is to take that first step sometimes because it frightens us. I'm proud of you and I can't wait to read it. =:)

    • profile image

      Ana Louis 

      7 years ago

      A wonderful hub, and you published it just when I needed to read it.

      A small child in so open and willing...unafraid to reach for what it wants. So often as parents we discourage them, instill fear, and self-doubt as we attempt to keep them protected from the pain in life.

      I am in the process of publishing a childrens story, and each step forward is shadowed by a voice in my head saying, "I can't do this...My story is not good enough...I am waisting my time..."

      Thank God for giving us a second childhood. I am taking mine a little early, and this time I am going to reach for what I want. And, if I fall on my, I'll just get a face lift, and try again.

      Thanks for inspiring me once again. You my friend have a gift.

    • Scribenet profile image


      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes, Winsome, my turn...I think you are on to something...the Toddler Principle...the book...get to it! :>)

      ...and I will take to heart your life altering comment! Thanks!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey SN, good to see you and thanks for the encouragement. I've decided to call this the Year of the Toddler to remind me to step out (or fall and step out) more.

      Excuse me I had to visit your "Authentic Life" hub and make a life altering comment--ok I had fun anyway.

      Now I'm back and since you may be "The Caller", I better get busy on that book. =:)

    • Scribenet profile image


      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great Hub eh! You should write this "Toddler Principle" as a book as you mentioned and I think that photo is captures the spirit of the Toddler Principle perfectly! I will picture it the next time I debate whether to do something or not!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey Amy, you are so kind. Thank you for the warm words. I've decided that life is too short to miss something just because it's a little risky. I've started some "desirable but failure probable" activities recently and found them to be easier than I thought. The Toddler follows a path that leads them to their heart's desire and lets somebody else think about the risks. While we have a bit more responsibility, the idea is worth a thought. Thanks again for visiting, so glad to meet you here. =:)

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 

      7 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      There is not iota of information here that I disagree with. Not one. Absolutely awesomely inspiring and excellently written material that every person can learn something from. The "Toddler" model is easily recognized making this read very relatable. I felt my heartbeat quicken as I read this!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      And clever you are. Hi Steph, good to see you. Yes you would think we would grow more bold as time goes by, but I'm learning that courage to try new things is what makes us younger and those who grow old do so out of timidity. Thank you for visiting and for the encouraging words. =:)

    • lettucehead profile image


      7 years ago from California

      I enjoyed this and I'm glad I clicked the link because it's something I have been thinking about lately. It's a shame the older I've become the more cautious I am. You'd think it'd be the other way around :)

      So thanks for putting my scrambled eggs into an omelet, which is another way of saying: putting my jumbled words in my head into clear text. I was just trying to be clever ;)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey RA, good to see you. Thank you so much for those kind words. I am so impressed by the little buggers and then I remember I was one. =:)

    • RunAbstract profile image


      7 years ago from USA

      This is absolutely some of the best advise I've heard in a very long while! But beyond that... I'm actually moved.


    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Nice to see you Ms Lizzy, I'm so glad you said you were told to "stay safe." I'd like you to join me in writing down at least three areas that you hold back because of some trepidation or other and then pick an activity in each to fail in. I mean it! Plan to fail. Ok if you wind up succeeding on the first try I won't be mad, heh heh, but seriously why not practice doing some things intending to fail to just chase that old bugaboo away once and for all. If you do, come back and brag about the glorious way you failed (or not) and I'll report on mine. Like Columbus told his crew: "Fail on, fail on, on, fail on!" Or was that sail? Anyway he failed to reach India, but oh what a glorious failure it was. =:)

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      7 years ago from Oakley, CA

      True enough..(though there are those who fail not through fear, but laziness).

      Some are able to maintain that toddler mentality throughout life, despite any criticisms and 'warnings.'

      The rest of the world muddles along the best they can--and often fail--ah, but here's the rub--they may not know WHY they failed--lacking the means to pinpoint exactly WHERE they were off the mark makes correcting the error very difficult.

      It is a journey I yet struggle to complete, as I was one of those whose parents were highly over-protective, and I was cautioned against failure at all costs..."stay safe" was their motto.

      Thanks for a great read and another reminder.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Greetings M'Lady, I was just thinking about heading your way when my Blackberry pinged with your comment. I am happy you found it helpful. The little buggers have a lot to teach us. Thank you for visiting and for the gracious words. =:)

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Winsome, I love the Edison quote! This is truly an inspirational hub!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hello my friend, Hello - Aren't they amazing, I think I enjoy that stage the most. I think I wanted them to stay that age and after writing this article, I want to include all of us. =:)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      A great hub and so true. They are amazing little people.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Ha ha you know me too well. Yes I have thought of making this a separate book. You may be the only one who remembers that it is actually part of a larger project. Publishing smaller books is probably a smarter, more manageable goal...and true to the Toddler Principle of doing right away some things you hold off on doing until they are perfect. The poem "When Love Won't Come" was written as a test of the principle.

      Although I'm not following my schedule exactly, this hub and Secretariat are #6 in my list of things I would do differently. "Take more risks" Thank you for the always positive comments you make. It means a lot. =:)

    • rebekahELLE profile image


      7 years ago from Tampa Bay

      another late night winsome read. what a beautiful, inspiring hub.. and so full of wisdom. I've seen this to be so true from working with young pre-schoolers.

      It used to amaze me how much they are able to learn and absorb. Active learners are able to learn more easily because they're constantly engaged. Toddlers don't 'think' that falling is failing. They simply connect falling as part of learning how to walk. If we all could keep that mindset while continuing our journey through life. I'm bookmarking this and sending it to my son. Really great article. It sounds like a winsome publishing book may be in the works?? It could be a bestseller, I'm sure. thanks for sharing another AAA hub. :]

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey John, nice to see you. Thank you for the kind words. The flip side of what you said is that sometimes you can look back and see that what you thought was a failure was just the insight you needed to make it all work out. I love the energy and tenacity in the toddler and I intend to attempt a lot more and let the devil take the hindmost--whatever that means. =:)

    • JBeadle profile image

      J Beadle 

      7 years ago from Midwest

      It's odd sometimes when you look back and see that what you thought was success was possibly failure. It is nice to take the view of a child sometimes - they see everything as it is without all the layering age adds to our perspectives and views. Toddlers cut to the core of the matter. A great illustration of what success means through the eyes of the toddler, Winsome. A very insightful and well written hub. Worth two or three reads!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Dimitri what a wonderful thing to say. I had the exact same experience with my first read of yours. I know you have been very successful with your career and if you are so inclined, I would like you to come back and comment about an instance where this philosophy helped in your success. Always nice to see you. =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Lisa, thank you for visiting and for the great comment. The more I find out about the learning capacity of these little guys that eat failure like it was candy, you're right, time to revert to the toddler mentality. =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Mischelle you are too kind but thank you. I like that image of fail forward. It reminds me of what every successful running back knows, you're going to get tackled, make sure you fall in the direction of the first down. I also agree that if we would gush more about the stupid tries that we make, maybe more of us would push through to succeed. Your comment is rated up and much appreciated. =:)

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      7 years ago from UK

      Another truly intelligent hub. For the first hub of yours I read, I have become a permanent admirer :-)

    • Lisa M Smith profile image

      Lisa Smith 

      7 years ago from Coupeville, WA

      This is totally awesome! I completely agree with you. We are so hard on ourselves. We expect perfection on the first try and we are so unforgiving of ourselves when we fail. We should all revert back to being a toddler!

    • mwatkins profile image


      7 years ago from Portland, Oregon & Vancouver BC

      Hi Winsome! you have said this SO WELL! I finished reading the "e Myth revisited" a week or so ago and it has a lot of the same things to say. What's so great about a toddler failing is the way a group of adults will stand around for those first few baby steps and clap, smile and gush all over each other and that baby - just after that first fall - about "How WELL baby's first steps went." As adults we don't offer ourselves the same acceptance and recognition and excitement and forgiveness when we fall (fail), and I believe in my little world that therein lies the making of truly being able to 'fail forward.' Awesome hub - I loved it!


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