Can any good thing come out of failure?

May 18, 2021

I certainly have failed.

I’ve blown it way too many times. Some of my faux pas have been cringe worthy.

Me: “Hey guys…are you new to the church? Have we ever met?”

Couple: “Yeah. You married us.”

And a few mess-ups have had serious consequences, like the time I backed a church bus up over the hood and into the windshield of the car behind me. Some of my errors have been so egregious that I can’t even bring myself to say them out loud.

According to many, failure can be cast as a good thing…even admirable.

“Failure is not the opposite of success – it’s part of success.”  Arianna Huffington

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan

“It’s important to reward failure so as to encourage risk taking.” Laszlo Bock

I get it. This is trying to turn failure into an adventure or an experiment, but more often than not failure results in anxiety, shame or bitterness. More on that in a moment.

Can failure be redeemed?

Before I offer some thoughts to that end, I would like to invite you to join me in a unique live virtual discussion of this topic on Friday, May 28th at 7:30 Eastern. The format is called a Three Practice Story Circle. You can read about them here. The stories and conversation we’ll share with each other will focus on this provocative thought: As it turns out, failure wasn’t the last word.  Please consider joining me that evening! Here is a link to register for the Zoom event.

Here are some musings to consider in the meantime:

There are some very good things that can come from failure.

Failure can certainly reveal to you what your calling isn’t. Failure can breed a deep longing for success that can motivate you. Failure can give you a tender, understanding heart for those who have failed in a similar way as you have. Failure can breed a commitment to know more or to become more intelligent. And if you’re willing to see failure this way, it can be a turning point in your life.

Yes, failure can be redeemed, but only if you allow it to be. As I stated earlier, it is not uncommon that people allow their failure to generate shame, anxiety or bitterness. I guess failure will always be an inflection point in our lives. It will either lead to change and renovation, or it will lead to anxiety and depression.

Last week I reflected on the posture that will keep us from experiencing redemption from our pain. That same posture can keep us from redeeming our failure. So, it bears repeating.

I’ll use a closed fist as an illustration. Some people react to their failure with a clenched fist attitude, striking out in bitterness and anger at those who have accused them or mocked them in their failure. Other people react to their failure with a closed fist pulled tightly to the chest attitude, suggesting that they just want to be left alone. But the only way to truly redeem failure is to take an open palmed attitude, one that is ready to learn from failure and experience growth.

That, of course, takes a significant amount of humility and courage getting up and trying again.

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt




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