The cultural milieu of pragmatism creates defenses to combat the attacks of failure. Walk into any bookstore and there you will find self-helps on everything from parenting to cooking 30-minute meals. Our culture is one that is fixated on not failing. Maybe it is because failure is something that affects everyone, whether it is the fear of failing as a child, student, parent, or spouse, failing as a leader (in whatever capacity), or whether it is just a straight up failing at life.
I know that in my short amount of time, I have experienced a fair share of failures. I have experienced failures in sports, family (as a child and now as a spouse and parent), and ministry.
As everyone who has ever failed (which is all of us) knows, failing is not fun. In fact, failure hurts! Failure many times hurts our psyche, emotions, relationships, ego, confidence, potential future opportunities, abilities to move forward, etc. But as John Maxwell exhorted people in his book Failing Forward, failure needs to become man’s best friend. So, in this post I want to simply add some of my own insights into this whole realm of failing forward, or failing with purpose.
- It’s OK to fail! It’s OK to make mistakes! I believe the reason why many people hate to experience failure is how it makes them look to other people, as well as how other people respond or react to their failure. Simply put—who cares! Remember, we all make mistakes—we all fail. And If people look, react, or respond to your failure in a snobbish, holier-than-thou, or pharisaical way, you don’t want to be around them. You don’t need them. These types of people are too perfect for you, and their heavenly standards will not provide you the freedom and adventure to make more mistakes and experience more failures in the future.
- Be Willing to Fail. Look Forward to Failure. There are so many books, seminars, conferences, and environments created to help people not fail. I think these are great; learning from other’s failures and mistakes so that we can avoid them is very helpful. However, sometimes learning in a second hand fashion is not always the best way to learn. Many times, we must experience the failure and mistake ourselves in order to truly learn and comprehend. In other words, sometimes it may be more beneficial to touch the hot stove ourselves rather than taking someone else’s word. Neil Cole believes that although it is wise to learn from other’s mistakes, he thinks it is also wise to learn from our own (204, Organic Church). I couldn’t agree more. Hearing about the hot oven is one thing, touching the hot oven is another, and an experience one will never forget.
- Failures Provides a 3-D and High Def Picture of the Experience. I know that in my own failures whether they have been in sports, family situations, or ministry, I tend to play the failure over-and-over in my mind trying to glean and understand what went wrong. Typically in my successes, I don’t play them over-and-over in my mind like a play-by-play analysis. I tend to just celebrate them. In my failures, I analyze them. I look at them from every angle. I dissect them. What I believe this does, especially for those desiring to fail forward, is create the potential for success the next time. Thomas Edison went through countless failures in creating the light bulb. Each failure provided a better, more detailed picture of how not to do it, which eventually led to the breakthrough—the light-build going on!
- Make sure Failures make you Better, not Bitter. Because failures and mistakes are usually viewed as negative, they have the tendency to turn us negative. We should not succumb to such temptation. Rather than allowing our failures and mistakes to blame others, become bitter at others for our circumstances, we must channel the (negative) energy and emotions, churning them into a more positive form of energy and emotion. In other words, determine that you will not let this failure and mistake define you and erode who you are and who God has deemed you to be. If you keep a negative (failure) as a negative (attitude) then you walk around as a ticking time bomb. However, if you convert a negative (failure) into a positive (attitude) you walk around as a fragrant aroma.
- Make sure your Failures and Mistakes lead you to Worship. I believe this is the most important aspect of failing forward. Because failure and making mistakes is hurtful, disappointing, and negative, it many times, like stated earlier, can lead to bitterness. Bitterness can evolve and co-exist with anger, resentment, and also depression. Therefore, we must take our shortcomings, mistakes, and failures to the God who loves us and died for us. Remember: GOD is BIGGER than our failures and mistakes! Therefore, we must be willing to fail forward into the loving arms of God (like Peter). Not that this happens in ever situation, but it may just be that God led us to the place of failure so that we might learn complete and utter dependence on him. I think of Jacob and the time God wrestled with him. Jacob left that Ultimate Fighting Championship with a limp that would accompany him all his life. But with every step Jacob would remember the love and grace of God, as well as his utter dependence on God. His limp was not a hindrance, but a holy blemish meant to remind him of the primacy of God in his life, and that his life did not solely exist for himself, but for his Maker and Redeemer. Whether God intentionally led us to the place of failure or allowed us to go to the place of failure, he is sovereign and in control, and desires to take these moments of failure and disappointment and turn them into something good and glorious for the glory of his name and kingdom!
So these are my five thoughts on failing with purpose.