“I am not concerned that you have fallen. I am concerned that you arise.” —Abraham Lincoln
Life is never, always a comedy. At times, it is tragedy.
Life is experienced as a constant, never-ending shift between successes and failures—sometimes occurring within moments of one another. To be human is to fail. We know this to be true from personal experience.
We experience hardship both because of our faults and because of the faults of others.
We fail in the small things: staying on a diet, running a 5k, keeping a New Year’s resolution, or controlling clutter in our homes. We fail in the larger things: overcoming an addiction, finding employment, or holding on to an important relationship. And sometimes our failures negatively impact the rest of our lives: keeping a marriage together, persuading a child to make better choices, or overcoming a lifetime of debt.
But in each setback—whether small or large—we find opportunity for growth. And as long as a glimmer of hope remains, so do we.
Some of the most influential people in my life have cemented their legacy through their failures. This should come as no surprise. After all, some of the most inspirational stories ever written (or lived) center on personal triumph over weakness or loss. As one screen writer once told me, “If the hero in your story does not experience tragedy, the audience will never relate to him or her.”
Failure is a necessary part of life. We would be wise to allow it to change us and shape us. How then, can each of us redeem failure for good?
An Encouraging Guide to Overcoming Failure
1. We admit that we experience it. Despite the universality of failure, our world goes to great lengths to hide it. People always have and people always will. Our default position too often is to downplay our weaknesses, but those who find growth in failure begin by simply admitting its existence in their lives.
2. We recognize failure is common. And because we know all experience it, we find comfort knowing we are not alone in it.
3. We look for personal responsibility. Our initial tendency is often to blame others or uncontrollable, external factors. After all, to admit defeat is to admit defeat. But rarely are the failures in our lives entirely the responsibility of someone else. And until we take personal responsibility in some capacity, we can never move on to the next step.
4. We process our weakness. Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This holds true in both success and failure. When failure occurs, which it always will, the wisest of us journey inward to determine the cause and intentional steps we can take to learn from the experience. And in time, we learn to champion humility.
5. We let go of the factors outside our control. One of the most hope-filled moments in life is when we find the courage to let go of what we cannot change.
6. We grow through pain. We live in a society passionately committed to avoiding pain. But there is benefit to be found in discomfort. While I would never encourage anybody to intentionally seek pain through failure, it will arise. And when it does, it will be okay. In fact, it will teach us things we could never learn elsewhere: patience and perseverance for example.
7. We forgive. If our pain is partly a result of someone else’s failures, we find freedom in forgiveness.
8. We turn to others. Nobody successfully navigates life alone. When the hope inside us begins to fade, we look for it in others. We turn to family. If family is not available, we turn to friends. And if friends are not available, we look for intentional communities around us to find support.
9. And then, we share our stories. It may not happen right away—some failures take longer to process than others. But eventually, we find opportunity to share our story. When we do, we share it with honesty and humility. Through it, we discover opportunity to provide hope, strength, and encouragement to others. We find influence for good. And we begin to make sense of our failings.
Failure is never the end. It is instead, a necessary part of the journey. May we keep hope alive. And find redemption through it.
I’m a failure and I need help
Jeffrey Down says
I haven’t worked in years and it makes me constantly ashamed to see ‘normal’ people going about their lives while I sit and feel sorry for myself. I am 54 years old, getting nowhere fast, with no savings, no retirement, no plan for later on. I get no interviews, no interest in my job applications. I lost my business, money, house, wife, and self-respect when my “dream” of opening a restaurant turned into a nightmare of debt, loss, and failure. 8 years later, and I still feel shame and regret every minute. My greatest shame? Not having the foresight to see what would happen to me/us if my plans did not work perfectly. Not thinking about the future until it is too late to do anything, then wondering what the hell I am supposed to do once it arrives. I am screwed and there’s no going back. I just realized that I haven’t been out to a restaurant, a party, any kind of social event whatsoever in over 5 years. Things that are normal to most are beyond reach for me. Whatever. Take another pill. Read another book. Get some more useless advice about “just do all the things you should all the time” or “don’t act depressed and you won’t be”. Great. Now what?