The best gift you can give your kids = Failure

September 24, 2012 | 45 comments. | Comment on this post

Two days ago I was listening to my Dad, Dan Miller, on a live radio show. The topic was the newly released book he wrote with my brother Jared, “Wisdom Meets Passion.” In discussing wisdom, my Dad quipped that the way he found wisdom was by…doing unwise things.

People become famous for their successes. Most people know my Dad as a best selling author and fount of wisdom on careers, life balance and more. As a kid, he taught me much and gave me exposure to loads of wisdom through the cassette tapes, seminars and books of people like Carnegie, Ziglar, Tracy and more. It was invaluable teaching and the benefit to my life has been priceless.

If you’d rather hear the 9/26/12 show where I expanded on this topic:Right-click to download / Listen or subscribe via iTunes

At the top of my gratefulness as a kid is he loved, respected and believed in me, was devoted to my Mom and gave me the foundation of Jesus Christ. But in regards to living a life of purpose and service to others and not settling for mediocrity the best gift he gave me was = Failure. Getting to see, experience and live through failure.

My Dad went after his ideas, desires of his heart, passions, service to others, a life of consequence and meaning. Amidst that, he made a LOT of mistakes. Some things did work, but a bunch of things did not.

Some kids grow up in military families and move 20 times. I grew up in an ‘idea, purpose, meaning & self-employment’ home and lived the roller coaster of feast or famine. Some years there were fun trips, new clothes, upgraded furniture and Cadillac Eldorados. Other years…we didn’t leave home much, old jeans got patches on the knees (even ‘Toughskins”), furniture was repaired and we drove embarrassing clunkers (I remember a Volkswagon Bug with rusted out floor boards where you could see the passing pavement underneath, and a bungee cord kept the stick in 4th gear).

In my late teen years, Dad made a really unwise decision to buy a health club and lost his shirt. Actually, he lost pretty much all our shirts except the ones on our backs. I think it was my junior year in high school that the new clothes Mom and I shopped for, I paid for. They didn’t have the money. Of course the only reason I had the cash was due to Dad teaching and enabling me to work and earn an income.

Regardless, we never went hungry. We never lacked for anything except frivolities. We always had peace in our home. Playing Scrabble on an old faux wood dining room table was no less fun than on a fine, $1,000 oak table. We played, laughed and worked together. It gave me faith on a silver platter, and strength to weather storms.

What would have been a regrettable upbringing for me in hindsight? If Dad had a ‘secure, responsible job’ and I would have gotten to experience…nothing. Nonstop security, comfort and safety. That would have prepared me for, again…nothing. No highs, no lows, no victory or defeat. NO HEART. NO PURPOSE. No meaning.

Incredibly worthy to note is my Mom was of the same spirit here. I’m sure she would have liked more financial security at times, but she had a bigger vision for life and us kids as well. If she had not, I imagine Dad would have buckled down and gotten the j-o-b and provided money instead of the other wealth of provisions he  gave us.

So now I’m 41 and have 7 of my own kids. For them and my wife, my instinctual inclination and pride wants to make sure they lack for nothing and never have any worries. I understand the desire. But it’s not a goal I believe in. I’m responsible for the basic necessities of healthy food, warm clothes and a solid home. But safety, security and comfort? Why? So they’ll never…want? What is that preparing them for, other than a life devoted to more…safety, security and comfort? If I want them to follow their heart and serve others, they better have some strength and faith and abilities to overcome.

I sure don’t try to fail in order to artificially give them hardship. The very hint of pursuing meaning and purpose naturally includes challenge and trial. And I’m here to provide them with a full experience of life, not just a paycheck and comfort and ease. As it is, I fear they are far too sheltered for their own good and I’m actively questioning how to better teach, guide and prepare them for a life of true worth.

Every day I get inquiries for my business, Free Agent Academy, from people whose hearts are dying due to lack of purpose. Their souls are suffering from days, weeks and years spent doing meaningless activities to earn a buck solely for…safety, security, comfort and buying stuff. They fill out our free agent inquiry & questionnaire and question #23 asks:  State your greatest fear(s) in pursuing free agency.

#1 answer = Fear of failure and resulting financial stress or lack.

So…the greatest fear is my greatest gift. Hmmm…

You may have to vacation at a state park instead of Disney World. Might have to get new clothes for the kids as hand-me-downs. You might have to make due with that crappy blender or [fill-in-the-blank] instead of running out to buy a new one. The kid might wait another year for braces.

But what DO you get? Inspiration. Heart. Purpose. Legacy. Joy. Heartache. Overcoming. Faith. Strength. Character. All sorely lacking in the average American home.   Today the path of heart has earned my Dad a most enviable position. Wealth and freedom that few people will ever, EVER experience. A true legacy. He ventured down in the valley while everyone else stayed safe on the plains. Now he’s on a mountain top and most of his peers are…still on the plains. The excitement of their day is the new iPhone5 purchase. Whoopee. But they stayed safe. Secure. Comfortable.

So when someone has the idea to pursue a passion and a purpose and they get the pushback from friends, family and culture to be ‘responsible’ and stick to the job so as not to jeapordize financial safety, security and comfort, maybe we should question what is truly responsible.

Thanks Dad, and Mom. Thanks for doing the MOST responsible thing and letting me experience true life.

Blog photo, June 2012 Dan & Joanne Miller Family reunion in Franklin, TN
Inset photo By Tawel
  • Kimberly J Anstaett

    I love that picture of the whole family! Thank you for posting this! I read it and then went into the other room and read it out loud to my son! Seriously, thank you for posting this!!
    Your family has been a huge blessing in my life,

    • Kevin Miller

      So glad it gave you value Kim. Thanks sister.

      • Kimberly J Anstaett

        Absolutely added value!
        Just finished listening to the audio….
        so much of it hit home and really answered some questions that were weighing on my heart.
        I also was gifted a copy of Wisdom Meets Passion and stayed up until 1am reading it!
        The bending and stretching that life university brings with it is like nothing else ….
        painful at times, not easy but creates beautiful relationships and strength of heart.

  • Doug Gale

    Awesome post Kevin…I have been hearing so much about fear and anxiety these days, that our kids have so much more than most adults did years ago…i wonder why that is…are we taught to avoid failing at all costs. that failing is bad and succeeding is the goal. Well, yeah, I want to succeed, but what does that mean….how does it impact my family. You are spot on in my humble opinion. I used to think having that newer car, nice house…blah, blah blah was the answer, the goal. Over the past few years I have learned so much about the impact of my successes and failures on the daughter…such great teaching moments! Now I look to embrace those failures more, after all the success is in getting up when you get knocked down, right? I would rather have her see me fail pursuing my passion, my heart, then living that life of resignation (to borrow a Gary B line)

    • Kevin Miller

      It blessed me to read this Doug. Thank you brother. Made me also think of that word…failure. I used it cause it’s the understood vernacular. But in truth, I don’t see it as failure. I see it as challenge. Hardship. Strengthening. Learning.

      • Doug Gale

        Thanks Kevin…I guess it only becomes a “failure” if it stops us, right? Sometimes I learn so much from reading the comments on your blogposts…really heart touching to read the comments from your parents…the legacy, the education, the fortitude that runs in your family is outstanding…it will be amazing to watch how your kids grow and change the world!

  • 48DaysDan

    Wow – I read through this laughing and crying at all the memories. I’m certainly grateful for your perspective. I remember those little double-patched Toughskins. You describe the roller-coaster of some of those years when you were growing up. But I too value the overall experience so much for getting us to where we are today. With the release of Wisdom Meets Passion I’m hearing from lots of parents who are asking how they can create that safe and secure path for their children. And my heart breaks for them and their children. My encouragement to them is to not negate the value of the journey their children are going through. As you so eloquently say, our role as parents is not to protect them from life:

    “But safety, security and comfort? Why? So they’ll never…want? What is that preparing them for, other than a life devoted to more…safety, security and comfort?”

    That’s brilliant insight. Those parents want to clip the threads of the cocoon to release the butterfly early – only to discover that instead of a butterfly they see a bulbous misfit. The beauty of the butterfly is formed as a result of the struggle to emerge on its own. It’s tough as parents to admit to failure or to stand back and watch our children walk through their own version.

    Hey I remember that Volkswagen where we had to bungee the gearshift to stay in gear. What a hoot. I think I paid $300 for that ride.

    I commend you completely on pushing through your own challenges and developing your own unique wisdom as an amazing Daddy, a loving husband and an innovative businessman. As you and I both know, success is not a destination, it’s a direction. You are solidly on that path.

    • Kevin Miller

      Thanks Dad. I had no motive with this post other than to communicate a truth I experienced. And it made me grateful. I still get caught on in trying to provide safety/security/comfort and have to shake my head and get a grip. I’m trying to follow my God, not my bank account. Again Dad…thank you. Thanks for the blessing. Thanks for that old Bug. It was blue…just remembered that.

  • Celia Triplett

    This post practically belongs as a Father’s Day post, so very sweet! You talked about wanting to get more into hope and I think you hit it out of the park on your first effort. Beautifully and powerfully written.

    • Kevin Miller

      Thank you Celia! No joke, I literally though about telling my Dad this was an early, or late…Father’s Day gift.

  • Wendy Sutter-Staas


    This is exactly how I was raised as well. . . Did my parents do it on purpose, no. . . like you said, what parent deliberately puts their family in financial hardship for lessons. NONE! However, if you look at my aunt and uncle — they provided for everything, the kids needed for nothing. . . one of the kids is doing well, the other is an hopeless alcoholic and the third. . .well, he doesn’t speak to the family much to help hold the middle child accountable for the habits of his choosing. I remember growing up with them and they even acted like they were ‘owed’ things. .. they had the newest gaming system, they got their mom’s ‘old’ car (yeah, not that old. .. I drove an ’83 caprice. . . now that was old and BIG). . .

    Anyway — I do not deliberately try to make things difficult for our family — however, I know the Lord is keeping our eyes on HIM. .. he is providing in BIG ways. This is what I want Sophia to learn the most. .. . He provides EVERY TIME!!! Sure. .. I started out in the corporate world, but knew pretty quickly that it wasn’t for me. . . SO GLAD I met your father and you — You are teaching all of us. .. that fear is okay!!! Push through it :)

    • Kevin Miller

      Great to read this Wendy. Yeah, the point is not to pursue suffering for suffering’s sake. But to pursue purpose and meaning and truth. In doing that, by proxy you’ll face hardship of some kind. Might not even be financial! I’ve known some to make millions…and face other hardships that in my opinion…are far worse than lack of money.

      • Wendy Sutter-Staas

        Good point!!! Thanks for sharing that. .. guess it is hard to visualize in my mind other hardships besides money. . . yeah. .. thanks for perspective :)

  • Wendy Isham

    Wow! What a GREAT article Kevin!! I have often called my way of thinking an “entrepreneurial curse” but I truly do agree that it is actually a blessing in so many ways…including what it teaches our kids about hard work, determination, perseverance and delayed gratification!! Thank you for reminding me that I am not ruining my kids lives because I chose to pursue a dream rather than constantly buy them the newest gadget! You rock!!

    • Kevin Miller

      Thanks Wendy. I didn’t write this as a justification. It’s my honest, personal experience and perspective.

  • Jack Lynady

    Where’s the Love it button? I needed this perspective tonight. I’ve had a slow couple of weeks. Started to feel a bit of the failure gremlins. But reading dad and your story has been the smelling salts I needed. 😉

    • Kevin Miller

      Hey Jack, the inspiration was from my being privy to hearing other’s fears. But it’s relevant for me now too…and our family. We’re seeking and being stretched…

  • Danny Hines

    Kevin, thanks for the message. Business has been a little slow over the last week or two and as a father of 3 (two whom of which high maintenance teen girls lol) it has helped remind me that God can use my short comings and even failures to help positively build their characters…and mine too :-) Kudos my friend.

    • Kevin Miller

      So great to hear Danny. I have a 17 year old boy, 16 year old giri, almost 13 year old girl. None have cell phones. No designer clothes. They share a car and laptop they all went in with their own money to pay for. They understand when they hear, “We aren’t buying any groceries for a week…we’re making due with whatever is in the pantry” and they get some…odd meals. Again, I’m sure not trying to create tough times. But dang! if it doesn’t create character and memories.

      • Danny Hines

        Sounds like mine need to spend a week at Camp K Miller… :-) Thx again

        • Kevin Miller

          Hey Danny, it’s not that they wouldn’t like the ‘stuff’, but they understand what we’re about and respect it.

  • Joe Lalonde

    Kevin, thanks for sharing your inspiring message. Too often we see parents who coddle their children and deny them any exposure to failure. This creates a “vulnerability” in them where they’re unable to handle failure when it comes. Much like when a parent insulates a child from germs, disinfecting anything and everything they may come in contact with. It often leaves them sicker than those who are able to build up a proper immune system.

    • Kevin Miller

      great analogy Joe. Thanks for reading and leading.

  • Joanne Miller

    Wow! What a sweet blog. There were certainly many days along the way that I cried out to God to give us some direction……..and some $$ to put food on the table and to keep the lights on. But I learned so much along the way. I have told your Dad many times in recent years that I can’t imagine a better education for doing what we are doing now than having gone through the agony of losing our house, our cars, our stuff. It made me understand the fear most people have. But it also helped me to put into perspective that it was just STUFF and the lessons learned were worth the loss. Just yesterday I was thinking about my amazing kids and how each one of them is changing the world in their own way. It warmed my heart. If I didn’t live another day, God has so richly blessed me with the legacy I leave behind and I am so very grateful. You are a shining star, Kevin. I love you and thank you for this beautiful blog. Your forever Mom!

    • Kevin Miller

      I know it wasn’t easy, but HOW you guys weathered it was the point. And that yeah…we never wanted for anything. Not anything important. I love you too Mom. Thank you.

  • Claudia Good

    This post was beautiful!!! I want to shout it from the rooftops!
    Thank you for sharing from your experience and from your heart. Wow, the words created pictures and I felt like I was looking down at the speeding road through the rusty floor boards of the blue bug…

    Your life’s message has truly pushed us in the same direction! Your encouragement to Michael helped him and I – together – take the leap into self employment. It has been glorious and gritty, the highs higher than imaginable and the lows the same. What sweet strength this has brought to our marriage and our family. What freedom and joy!

    Therefore, thank you!

    And when is YOUR book coming out? I could have just kept reading and reading! 😉

    • Kevin Miller

      Well Claudia, if I was having any self-image problems today, you just cured them. Thanks so much for this encouragement. I’m so blessed to be a small part of your’s and Michael’s journey. And I was reminding myself of this too…as a Daddy. Read it to my kids yesterday during our devo time and we discussed it. So grateful they get it and appreciate it.

      My book? Quit hitting my shame button… I’m so overdue. Hoping to get the book proposal in before Christmas…

      • Claudia Good

        Seriously? The book is coming?!

        • Kevin Miller

          Yeah, but don’t hold your breath just yet…


    Thanks to YOUR heart’s desire, the people of FAA and God’s will for our lives – we are doing “CRAZY” things with Plowman’s Farm….with our children’s education…etc. etc. We are stepping out in faith in a way that we would have never considered even an option a couple of years ago.
    All – not without struggle – not without pain – and yet not without joy!

    • Kevin Miller

      Jen & Charlie, you guys inspire me. Seriously. You are DOING IT. Bucking the norm, jumping out of the flow, doing the ‘ridiculous’. You’ll influence SO many folks with what you are doing. And with ‘how’ and ‘why’ you’re doing it.

  • Jared Angaza

    Great post brother. This past year, and in the book, I’ve recited two things over and over.

    “My perceived failures are not failures at all. They are necessary stepping stones to my success.”
    “Don’t let the fear of losing what you have now prevent you from become what you’ve always dreamed you could be. That fear may be your only obstacle.”

    Failure is where we find our true character; what we’re made of. Until we fail, we may never know. That’s huge. And most people aren’t courageous enough to make the leap into that gap between the mundane and the extraordinary, because that gap is filled with failures.

    I know we learned that from the examples that mom and dad set for us. And now we all teach each other, daily, through all of our adventures. And if there’s one thing we can say, our family is “LIVIN'”! I love that.

    Well said bro. On every level. Hooray for failure!

    • Kevin Miller

      Thanks Jared! I started not to use the word ‘failure’ cause like you say…I don’t use that in my vernacular. At all really. Lots of things I do don’t work, but they are stepping stones to find what DOES work, as you know. But I went ahead with ‘failure’ cause I knew it would resonate. In our home, we talk much about doing the ‘hard’ thing that has true value, instead of the ‘easy’ thing that is just…easy. Not too valuable, but easy. Often I tire of ‘hard’, but I can’t stomach doing the easy thing for myself and sacrificing the hard thing that serves someone else. Grateful you’re of the same cloth my Brother.

  • Keith Kemp

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Kevin as I can better understand where you are coming from. I see myself in the post where you mention “security”. Growing up in a home that valued routine and predicability has resulted in some comfort but causes me to believe that something is wrong whenever things get a little rocky. I need to retrain my mind to understand that highs and lows are a part of a good life and give testimony to growth.

    • Kevin Miller

      Thanks Keith. If we just expected that to do something big, our first attempts won’t work, but we must do them to find what DOES work, it would help the perspective, eh?

  • Joseph Iliff of SeekOutWisdom

    I tell my 11 year old son that failure isn’t fatal. “Did you learn something? Know how to do better next time? Then I’m proud of you. Try it again.”
    Your past hasn’t limited you. Your past has prepared you. It is often easier to learn more from failure than from success. If you can see failure as a chance to try again with more experience, it becomes preparation to succeed.

    • Kevin Miller

      Great counsel Joseph. Imagine a pole vaulter never being able to fail. Not much chance of progressing, eh?

  • Dallon Christensen

    As I’ve started my business, there have definitely been times I’ve wondered what I’ve gotten myself into. However, every time I get a new client or win a bid, I realize I’m doing this on my own and can take responsibility for my failures and successes. Bravo, Kevin. It’s reassuring to know we all face these challenges.

    • Kevin Miller

      It’s just getting back to our nature, eh Dallon?!

  • Teri Miller

    So good. And so dang hard.
    Yeah, my Mommy-heart just wants the kids to be protected, comfortable, happy. And my wife-security-seeking heart just wants ME to be protected, comfortable, happy.

    I know, I know.
    For what profit???

    Still dang hard.

    • Kevin Miller

      Well, I didn’t say we can’t be or accept safety, security and comfort. To have our lifestyle audited, we’re not exactly living in poverty in a warzone ourselves. We couldn’t live in a safer home or place and I don’t know what comforts we lack. While our income may fluctuate, we’ve never had the insecurity of wondering if we’ll eat, eh? It’s not that I view all safety, security and comfort as bad or unwanted. But making that the primary goal I feel is leading our culture and ourselves in a very, very errant direction.

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  • Christopher Battles

    Wow. I have listened to this three times now. Lots of nuggets in here.
    As response to the first qustion, keep the stories in. You might loose some people by not jumping right onto the topic, but bringing yourself into is what FAA is about. It makes things real. The blog stories real life and you are adding to how life is real now for you.
    It is in telling the children why they do not have so and so, but what they do have relationship wise and that they will be able to farther on their own. I have been reading a lot of Andy Andrews lately and seeing how instilling key principles into people can truely change them.
    Thank thee Sir. Awesome to seeing you mom and dad and brother involved here.

    K, bye

    • Kevin Miller

      So grateful this had value for you Christopher. Thank you for your encouragement. And I really appreciate your feedback here brother!

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