by Steven Baerg
So you’ve failed, lost, bit the big one, really done it now, blew it good, crashed and burned. Bummer. Failure stinks. It doesn’t feel good and is often costly. However, generally, a great deal more pain and misery is caused by our feelings and beliefs about failure than by the actual results of our mistakes.
So, the first step to succeeding spectacularly in failure is to recognize that a great majority of the things we believe and feel about failure are simply false.
First, we are not alone in failing. Not one single person alive has ever made it through life without failing at something. That may sound cliché, but think of Thomas Edison who invented the light bulb. He tried different methods for years without lighting even a closet. If he had stopped trying just one attempt earlier, he could have been an unknown, or known only as a failure. All great sports teams and stars eventually lose. No matter how good they are, every athlete gets old and simply can’t perform the way they used to. Eventually ALL fail to continue winning. Even fantastically successful corporations can make that last mistake and make their biggest legacy being a business school example of what not to do. Remember Enron?
A dark and deadly myth about failure is the feeling or belief that this failure is terminal. We will never succeed. That it will somehow destroy the rest of our lives. Not true. Even if you were a world-class athlete who became paralyzed in an accident, you can still succeed. True, it may be impossible in your chosen sport. But, as every retired athlete discovers, you can do and succeed at other things. Your success in one area might be dead but your life and options are not! Letting go of what simply can’t be done and looking in new directions opens up a whole new horizon of opportunities!
Ultimately, we, as Christians, can be absolutely certain that our failures are not the end. Christ has promised us a perfect eternal life in heaven as co rulers of the universe. Regardless of any and all mistakes we make, so long as we are right with God, they will all be erased, forgiven, forgotten and have no influence on our eternal futures. In essence, we who live committed to God, already know the end of our stories. We are becoming princes and princesses in the kingdom of eternity. It is only the “how” of the becoming that is unknown. Success is not a possibility; it is an eternal certainty!
An extremely deadly lie is the belief that our personal value is set by our successes or failures. Our worth as people does not fluctuate with our failures, or successes. In this highly materialistic society, we publicly appear to count a person’s worth by their net worth. While a popular opinion, it is not true! Even personal disasters such as divorce or estranged children do not change our value as people. We may have to live with very painful consequences of our mistakes but making the mistake does not suddenly turn us into subhuman worthless pond scum. (which, by the way, does still have a function!) And most importantly, our mistakes and our successes have zero impact on the value and price Christ placed on each of us. The value of His own life! There is nothing we can do or not do to change that! Our value has been eternally set completely independent of our performance!
“There you have it, the truth about failure. Now you should feel all better and be ready to move on to next step in conquering failure!” It often seems like it should be so simple. “I now know the truth and the truth shall set me free! I am ready to go! Except, I am not.” Our feelings and beliefs are developed over time and frequently on an unconscious level, so just hearing the truth once is
UNLIKELY to create any great change in how we feel or in our abilities to move forward beyond our failure. This part in succeeding at failure can accurately be described as reprogramming our thinking. Our habitual patterns of thought have developed over our entire lives and will not be changed instantly, so here is a good place to learn that virtue called patience. (note: this article is NOT titled “3 Easy and Painless Steps to Conquering Failure Instantly!”) In general it is considered to take about a month to develop a new habit and that is precisely what “reprogramming our thinking” is, developing the habit of thinking more accurately about failure. A good method to reprogram your thinking is to write out and review the truth about your situation 3 times a day for 30 days. This should include: acknowledging your infinite value and worth despite the failure, reminding yourself that the failure isn’t the end of your life or success, and that failure places you in the company of all great people throughout history, some of which have made huge failures! (remember King David and Bath Sheba) When possible phrase the situation into statements about you. Such as “The most successful people fail so I have done no worse then they have. I am a valuable person regardless of ALL failures. I do not have to let this failure be permanent! I can find new ways to succeed in the future!” The repeated reviews of your situation should be read out loud and in front of a mirror so that you are telling you the truth face to face.
If you read this article the way I have read many self-help books, you’ll tell yourself “now that I know all this stuff I don’t really need to keep reminding myself about it. It’s true and I know it’s true. That is enough.” However, that kind of thinking assumes that just knowing something will change your feelings about it. I’ve tried it; it doesn’t work. It is our daily ongoing inner thoughts that most greatly affect our feelings and it is our feelings that drive our motivation and actions. If our everyday minute by minute thought habits aren’t changed neither will our feelings or our actions. That is why the daily multiple reviews of the truth are crucial to actually succeeding at failure. Without making it an internal automatic part of our thinking, all the information in the world will still be, just that, information, not a changed life.
Another part of being a spectacularly successful failure is learning from our mistakes. Let’s be honest, despite knowing that everyone fails, it isn’t the end of all life, and even remembering that we have a guaranteed ultimate future to look forward to, failing stinks. It simply doesn’t feel good. So why waste it? Why go through all that misery and not get the most out of it, right? Take some time to think about what happened, why it happened and most importantly, what can you do differently in the future to avoid that failure. While it has been a natural tendency since Eve blamed the snake and Adam blamed Eve, there is very little value in assigning blame anywhere but to ourselves. Even if it is another person’s fault, we simply have no control over them and thus can not have any certainty that we can avoid that mistake in the future. The real idea is not to look for someone or something to blame but to discover all the possible actions we can take to avoid that failure again. The important question to answer is: “What can I do differently next time to make it better?” not “who made this happen?” By putting the focus on what we can do, we are giving ourselves the power to change the future, by blaming others, we will always be the helpless victims of other people and circumstances we will never be able to control.
Possibly, the most important part of succeeding at failure is starting again. Determination is a big characteristic of any person who develops ongoing success. Since failure is inevitable, the only way to succeed is to continually be willing to start over. Starting over may not always mean just making another attempt at the same thing. As noted earlier, there are circumstances that make success in certain ventures impossible. It is highly improbable, for example, that there will ever be a blind Indianapolis 500 winner. However that same person may well be a great car owner or maybe even an engineer. Or he may decide that his disability tends to lead him toward success in a totally different area such as sculpting or singing. The important thing is to not be a victim of our own discouragement. If we just cower in a corner because we are afraid we will fail again, we have simply guaranteed our lack of success. No one has ever had lasting success by failing to try. Start again. Start over. Start now!
The last step in becoming truly proficient at being a spectacularly successful failure is to learn to enjoy failure. Yes, just a couple of paragraphs before, I did say that failure bites, it hurts, it is discouraging, so how are we supposed to enjoy it? Truthfully, I’m working on this one myself. But here is what I have so far. It is important to develop at least an easy tolerance for failure. Failure is going to happen, but the easier it is for us to deal with the less frightening it will be to try to again. The basic idea is simply to understand failure as a natural part of success. Thomas Edison worded it this way. “Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is just one more step forward....” (1) If we rethink failure for what it is, an opportunity to learn how to do better, a chance to start over, a probable step closer to success, failure is transformed from an abhorrent enemy to a firm schoolmaster. Though harsh in it’s teaching, failure points us down the path of success. It’s our choice; we can whine at the sting of failure or jump up eagerly, knowing we are even closer to success. May we all become alive, learning, growing, spectacularly successful, failures!