When my husband and I were dating and just getting to know one another, we shared about the various jobs we had in our past. My husband told me that he was fired from his very first job. He thought everyone should be fired at least once in their life because you learn many lessons from it.
This past week I had a conversation with someone who is graduating from college soon. She is anxious about stepping out into a new world and having to make it on her own. Her biggest question to me was, “What if I fail?” My reply was, “What if you do? Most people fail at something. It’s how you handle failure that’s important.” Failure happens to most of us at one time or another and in our culture we consider failure as something to be avoided at all cost.
My contention is that we need failure in our lives occasionally. It is through failure that we learn. When a baby is learning to walk she doesn’t automatically take off. She fails a few times first. She takes a step and falls down, but as she learns to take the next steps she figures out what works and what doesn’t. She may learn so well that she may eventually even learn to run.
There are many things we can learn from our failures, but here are four key things I have learned from mine.
Sometimes we fail because we are unwilling to listen and learn from others. I have seen this play out on multiple occasions. It is pretty humbling when we fail, especially if we have neglected to let the wisdom of others guide us. I have to tell you, I have “eaten crow” on more than one occasion. But if we learn humility we are far more likely to succeed in our endeavors.
When I was learning to drive, I was ready to quit after my first time behind the wheel. It was a disaster. But with encouragement from my instructor, I persevered and eventually was able to drive on my own.
Henry Ford said, “Perseverance is a positive attribute we need to learn as we mature. Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Sometimes we initially fail in our attempts, but with practice can succeed. The saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is apt for most of us.
Sometimes we experience a huge failure, such as a failed marriage, a failed career, or any other of a myriad of things. But we learn that even though we fail, our life goes forward. We may experience the pain of failure for a while, but to survive we must make adjustments and adapt to our new environment. Individuals who have learned to adapt to new circumstances thrive more quickly than those who can’t get past their moment of failure.
Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” It takes courage to get back on our feet after a failure. When we can get up and try again, we grow stronger.
Peter had a colossal failure when he denied Christ three times prior to Christ’s crucifixion (John 18:15-27). Yet he grew to be a key figure in helping spread the gospel in the world around him. While the source of his courage was the Lord, the fact is that his failure taught him a valuable lesson about faithfulness.
There is no doubt that I have failed many times in my life. And, to be perfectly honest, there will probably be times in the future that I also fail. But I can’t let my failures define who I am and what I do. When I fail, I try to put everything in the proper perspective, learn from my failure, and find the courage to move on.
How do you handle failure in your life? Do you let it define who you are? Do you become so bogged down by failure that you can’t move forward in your life? When we put our failures in God’s hands, it’s amazing what He can do with us. I want to be like Peter, who after a huge failure, regrouped and let God use Him in mighty ways. What about you?
*This article was originally published on August 30, 2011 on my cwrn blog.