I’m not speaking theologically here. I’m talking about normal, everyday failure. Oh, how we dread it! How we avoid it! How we guard against it! How we try to hide it when it happens! Failure is so…(if my international friends will forgive the expression)…so…un-American! It carries with it the stigma of unworthiness, and we refer to those who have failed as the “losers,” the “has-beens,” the “also-rans” and the “one-hit wonders.” Tsk…tsk…
No wonder we don’t want to fail. There’s little grace for the “failure” in today’s world. Failures are written off and disowned, and many take delight in pecking them to death like chickens do with their weak and wounded. It’s survival of the fittest, and there seems to be a measure of justice accorded when the “imposter’s” sins find him out. Besides, what if it’s catching? Maybe his failure is contagious!
How short-sighted of us if we hold these views. Failure is rarely the end of the story; oftentimes it’s just the beginning. How many people have you known who have experienced a significant failure only to rebound in a spectacular way? Consider these examples:
- John James Audubon, whose name is now synonymous with birds and bird conservation, didn’t start traveling and painting birds until his dry-goods business failed and he had to be jailed for bankruptcy in 1819.
- Joe Rosenthal, who received the Pulitzer Prize for his stunning photograph of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima, wouldn’t have been there to make the moment immortal if the armed forces hadn’t rejected him for service because of his abysmal eyesight (one-twentieth of the average person). Instead of going to war, he photographed it for the Associated Press.
- William Faulkner didn’t start writing seriously until after he was asked to resign from his postmaster’s job. Within five years, he had written The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, considered to be his greatest works.
- Ulysses S. Grant failed as a farmer, as a real-estate partner, in a bid for elected office and in several key battles of the Civil War before he found his niche at the head of the Union armies. Within a few years, he won the war and was appointed a full general – the first since General George Washington. Three years later, he was elected President of the United States.
Each of these men capitalized on their failures. They learned what failure had to teach them. They gained self-awareness and clarity around their strengths and their weaknesses, and then they used failure as motivation to operate in their strengths. For them, failure was a fortunate fall.
When was the last time you had a fortunate fall? Are you avoiding it because you fear the consequences? Are you struggling in a no-win situation, because you don’t want to admit it’s a bad fit? Are you trying to hide your lack of skill or talent or results from your peers or from your boss? Isn’t that draining the life out of you?
When we try to be someone we aren’t, the stress and frustration accumulates until one of two things happen:
1. We make the decision to make a change.
2. Someone else makes that decision for us.
Wouldn’t you rather make the decision of your own initiative? It could be the beginning of a whole new chapter in your life, a chapter of incredible self-fulfillment and achievement. Stop focusing exclusively on the negative consequences of failure. It has much to teach you, and it can be the catalyst for positive change.
One last note: if you know someone who is trying to be someone they are not, the kindest thing you can do for them is to hold up a mirror. Tactfully, share what you see as the disconnect and encourage them to face the facts. No one can be successful at everything that they do. Help them to find that for which they were created, and you free them to reach their highest potential.