Failure is Better Than Success


For Christmas this year, my daughter – “A12” – had her first harp recital in front of our church in Chiang Mai. We (her mother and I) were absolutely terrified! Much more afraid than A12 let on to being.

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It’s only been a short time since she was part of the choir in her class’ school musical (an almost invisible role at the very back of the stage) when she froze in a catatonic state of fear because she had to sing a few lines with the rest of the kids. When one of our friends complimented her on her performance afterward, she dissolved into sobs. So, while we were excited for her to get to play in front of an audience of 400-500, we dreaded the very real possibility that she would make a mistake and melt in the spotlight.

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We had her practice over and over and over again to get it just right, and then the night came. We showed up plenty early, but things didn’t go as planned. We had been told she would have some time to warm up before service, but the Christmas drama team was doing a last-minute run-through, and they used all sixty of the last-minute seconds.

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Worse, she was told that there was a change of plans and that she would only be playing during the offering and not at the beginning of service, too, as she had prepared for. This was a major bummer for her. It cut the songs she would play from five to two, so she went out behind the church to deal with her disappointment in private.

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But then the plans changed again, and there were a few minutes for her to play while people found their seats. We found her out back, wiped her eyes, gave her a quick pep talk and turned on her microphone. Because the drama team had kept everyone out while they practiced, A12 was able to go through all three of her opening Christmas songs two times each while everyone came inside.

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Much encouraged, she joined us in the pew while the Christmas production got under way. When it came time for the offering, she returned to her bench and began playing one of her best songs. But this time was different. There was no milling congregation creating a distracting, low hum. All eyes and ears were on A12, and she must have felt the pressure.

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She missed one note, then two, then three and four… Her mother and I held our breath as she stopped to adjust one of her levers at the top of the harp, but then she played the rest of the song. It was a bit painful, because everyone knows when you miss a note in “Away in a Manger,” but she played it completely through twice before the pastor saw a natural place to break in and move to the next item on the agenda.

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She didn’t get to play her best song, and she missed quite a few notes, but we were incredibly proud (and relieved) that she pushed through.

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Since that night, we’ve had several adults tell us how impressed they were that she didn’t stop playing. Other musicians recognized how difficult it must have been for a young girl in front of such a large audience, and they confided that they were silently cheering her on – willing her to keep going. A few of her classmates told her how “horrible” she was, but it hasn’t seemed to phase her. She knows she accomplished something worthwhile that night.

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As I reflect on the experience, it strikes me that failure is often much better than success. Success builds confidence, but too much confidence leads to complacency and arrogance. Failure, however, teaches and builds character. Many of us can say that we learned our most important lessons from failure, but we hardly ever learn something significant from success. Through failure, we gain humility, and humility keeps our minds open to learning new things. Success, on the other hand, convinces us that we already know all we need to know.

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What if we didn’t fear failure so much? What if we could embrace it and learn what it has to teach us? What if we were more understanding about the failures of those around us? Wouldn’t we learn important lessons so much faster? Maybe we need a new way to look at failure, to see that it really is its own type of success. Let’s all try to fail just a little more this year…what do you say?

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Filed under Challenges, character, Christmas, Church, comfort zone, failure, parenting, success

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