Finally, I had to fire one and take another to task. The one taken to task responded with a heartfelt apology, and it became clear that he'd become trapped in a vicious cycle of failure--unable to complete the assigned project, but equally unable to 'fess up and ask for help. The longer this continued, the more ashamed he felt about his failure, and the harder it seemed to admit that he just couldn't handle it.
Never one to miss an opportunity to offer up a motherly lecture, I replied with something I wish somebody had told ME at age 18:
That's a heavy load you've been carrying around, isn't it? I'm betting it's a relief to set it down at last.
Look, kiddo...everybody makes mistakes. And everybody gets in over their head on a project sometimes. Or a relationship. Or a--whatever. That's a given.
Also, although it's rarely discussed openly in adult life: Everybody FAILS. Just flat-out fails--falls flat on their ass in truly spectacular fashion. Sometimes it happens in a mortifyingly obvious public way. That feels worse, at the time, but it's really a gift, because there's no pretending it didn't happen. It's when it happens in private that it's so very tempting to play the cover-up game. "If I can just glue this broken plate back together seamlessly enough, Mom will NEVER have to know..."
The challenge isn't how to avoid ever falling on your ass. You can't. Nobody can. Which is a good thing, believe it or not, because we learn a heck of a lot more from our failures than our successes.
So no, the challenge is not how to remain fail-free and fall-free. The challenge is getting up again. And sometimes that calls for a helping hand. Which, yes, does require you to holler and wave--in a sheepish fashion that makes you feel both stupid and conspicuous--with a hearty cry of, "Hey! Need a little help over here!"
But help comes when you do. It almost always does, when you get past the embarrassment of asking for it. And usually the people who help you up are happy to do it, because they are just awfully grateful the fall wasn't their own (for a change).
Learning how to do that--learning that it's *OK* to do that, and necessary, and healthy--is a more important lesson than anything you will ever encounter in a classroom. So, there you go. I have contributed to your education. :)