Sitting on my desk at home where I do most of my writing is a heavy paperweight inscribed, “never, never, never give up.” The quote from Winston Churchill is our unofficial family motto. I love that quote. It has helped me innumerable times when the going got tough, and I was tempted to mail it in and call it quits. In those times, when the mountain seemed too high and too hard to climb, I was so glad I persevered. That motto serves me well, but no matter how committed I am to never give up, failure still comes often. At those times, how we think about failure and how we respond makes all the difference. If we are open, failure has lessons to teach us that success never will. Four benefits stand out:
• Failure Clarifies – Nothing will teach us as much as failure will. When I fail, which is often, I learn what doesn’t work. More importantly, I learn about myself, my motives, my ego, and short-sightedness that sabotage my efforts. I learn that despite my best efforts, success is not always in my control. At the core, I discover that I can survive failure.
• Failure Humbles – Failure teaches me humility. From failure, I am forced to face both my strengths and my weaknesses. I come to understand that, although it sounds good, I cannot do anything that I set my mind to. I am limited. As long as I do not let that failure set me back from striking out again, that humility makes me a better person, a kinder person, and a wiser person.
• Failure Redirects – Sometimes failure comes to us despite our best efforts as a sort of compassionate nudge in a different direction. A job loss, a relationship breakup, a business demise all can be providential mercy opening a better door where the previous door just shut.
• Failure Strengthens – We become infinitely stronger when we allow failure to do its good work in us. This will not likely be pleasant. In fact, it could be devastating, but after a while, we come back stronger than ever. Muscles that are not tested, that are not pushed to their limits, will never strengthen to their maximum potential.
These benefits will change us if we let them. But they are dependent on two prior convictions. First, we must be willing to take the risk of starting. Life is too short to play it safe. We live when we take chances and risk failure. Of course, we must calculate the cost and be prudent. But some people are so cautious that they miss out on the adventure that life offers the person willing to fail. Second, the benefits of failure are only for the one who chooses to get up. In the Bible, Proverbs advises us, “for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought to calamity.” (Prov. 24:16) In other words, both fall down, but only one gets up. Failure does not define us; being one who keeps on getting up will. Choose to take wise risks without fear of failure. The benefits of failure, if it comes, will be well worth the risk.