Nobody stood and walked the first time her weight was put down on wobbly legs at a few months old. Nobody got his ABC's or counting to 10 right the first time he tried to imitate someone with that series of sounds. Nobody spelled "rendezvous" correctly upon first hearing the word. Everybody fails at something.
If it is true of things as basic as walking, counting, or writing, why should we be so surprised that we fail at things when we get older?
- A first job may not turn out to be a career.
- A sure-fire investment may not be.
- Some relationships don't work out.
The real question isn't "Will I ever fail at anything?" but "What is the best way to deal with my mistakes and failures?" Nobody wants to mess up. Nobody sets out to fail. But fallibility is another name for humanity.
Thomas Edison was extraordinarily successful. He lit up the world with his incandescent bulb. He invented the phonograph, microphone, and movies. He conceived and created storage batteries. He worked with the inventions of others to make them commercially feasible — things like the typewriter, telegraph, and telephone. He patented a phenomenal 1,093 inventions during his lifetime. Those inventions literally changed the world. But, failure was a very real and a very crucial part of his creative process.
Most of us seem to fear failure so much that we avoid taking risks. We are reluctant to learn new things. We hesitate about anything unfamiliar that might make us look foolish or label us as failures. But where does one learn virtues such as perseverance and courage except from facing difficulties and setbacks?
During a frustrating series of experiments, Edison tried to buoy the spirits of a discouraged co-worker. "We haven't failed!" he told the man. "We now know things that won't work, so we are that much closer to finding what will."
Instead of fixating on the possibility of failure, it is better to understand that it is acceptable to try worthwhile things and fail. It is part of the learning process.
Think about the last time something came undone for you.
- Did you try to conceal it?
- Find someone to blame for it?
- Go into some dark place about your inadequacies as a person?
- Give up on the project or person?
Now think about a different strategy for your next setback.
- Admit that things didn't work out as you had hoped.
- Take responsibility for whatever part of the failure belongs to you.
- Then figure out what you can learn from the process.
The point here is not simply to acknowledge a failure, but to learn from a reversal.
God specializes in turning our weaknesses and failures into his triumphs.
[Final Editor's Note:]
After having just sent a note to encourage a young man who embarrassed himself and others because of a mistake in judgment, this article by Rubel is a great reminder that failure comes as a part of growth. Remember, the apostle Peter, who spoke on Pentecost and had 3,000 responses, just seven weeks earlier had been confronted with real failure.
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to have all of you, to sift you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen and build up your brothers."
Peter said, "Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you."
But Jesus said, "Peter, let me tell you something. The rooster will not crow tomorrow morning until you have denied three times that you even know me." (Luke 22:31-34)
The Lord reminds us of two truths as he speaks to Peter. First, failure is not really failure unless we give up our faith and quit. Second, he is praying and pulling for us to come through our failures and be returned to usefulness. One of my favorite quotes from the great basketball coach John Wooden is this: "Failure is only fatal if it is final."