“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.
Renee s says
hah I just found out today that I did not receive a promotion that I applied for. A friend of mine did and I am truly happy for her even though I do feel like I failed. Many of these ideas in your article ring true to me–I want to learn from this and know why I was not chosen–my age? my interview skills?–I want to hone in on my weaknesses and improve them for the future. I am letting myself feel my feelings (happiness for my friend, disappointment for myself), letting other friends/my boyfriend/my family support me and I am reflecting on what else I may need to learn in my current position. Thank you for the post–very timely!
Great article. Important points, well stated. This is a topic that comes up a lot with clients in my counseling practice, and you’ve done a great job of articulating what I try and convey to them.
Wow, so good. Full of truth and wisdom. I have failed, still failing, will fail again, however I have Faith, Hope and Trust in the One author and finisher of all, Jesus and because of that I can offer comfort to those around me. I thank Him for you. Keep it going.
Thank u very much, cos I have come to understand that when u fail, it shows u have just discovered a way something can never be done right. Thanks again.
“But rarely are the failures in our lives entirely the responsibility of someone else” – They may trigger it, but WE do fail when we’re out of control of ourself and do react inappropriately (and so enliven the misconception) instead to respond to the situation.
Thank you for your words!
Excellent. Thank you.
caroline starr rose says
Thank you so much.
I feel like the last point about sharing your stories about failing is the most important. How many times have I felt like a failure and then gone online or chatted with friends and realized I’m not alone? Just that feeling of not being the only one on the planet who’s done something extremely stupid and failed, or failed inspite of the odds against it, makes you feel so much better instantly. That is why every time I try something new (I try a lot of new things), I share it with the people on my blog, with my offline friends and anyone else who will listen. I feel the more people know about failing and getting back up, the more people will try new things and the world will be a better place for it.
Robyn @Living the Simple Life Now says
This is so true and it’s something I’ve learned to embrace as I seek simplicity in my family’s life. We’ve experienced failure and loss that is just completely out of our control, and while it’s been hard, it has developed a depth of character and resilience that simply can’t be taught, but experienced.
I didn’t like the things at the time, but wouldn’t trade who it has shaped all of us into for anything. :)
Josh … as a pastoral counselor, all I can say is wow. And thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing these truths in such a clear way. We do not need to continue to be defined by our failures, our sins, our shame, our past, our stuff, our pain.
God’s in the redemption business and can turn the disasters into something good, something beautiful, something that can benefit others.
Love this. Appreciate you. Grateful to Him.
Riaz shah says
I feel like a failure in comparison to others who have gone on and done something with their lives. I have four healthy and loving kids and a beautiful wife and yet I shout and scream at cry, in the car or when I am home alone. Every business I have done has not been profitable and now I find myself in huge debt, mortgage, credit cards up to my eyeballs. I am lost and afraid of what the future holds for my family.
Today I woke up feeling like a failure. This came at the right time for me! Thank you :) I love reading your posts on this wonderful site.
Michael Cox says
Amanda, you are not alone. How often I wake up, or go to bed, feeling that way. It is quite debilitating. Yet, we carry on. If we don’t let those thoughts drag us down into depression, or worse.
I’m not a religious person, but lately I’ve been talking to people, Joshua among them, about courage, and I don’t mean the kind of courage that gets on tv, I mean the courage to live life, to face our fears, to be fully human.
I’ve just started this project. Joshua’s story is at that web link above.
Thank you Michael for letting me know that I am not the only one. We as humans forget that everyone has ups and downs. I do really good for awhile. And then I fall right back down. I had depression so bad for the last few years it was just getting worse and worse. I got on some medication for it and it has helped a lot! I still have small battles at times. I do pray a lot when I go to bed and thank him for everything good in my life. It does seem to help some. :)
everyday you wake up means there is hope, never give up! never.
Thank you for this. I am having a rough time right now because of my failure. This is a big help for what I am feeling at this moment. I can now say that failure is not a bad thing but a good experience hiding on the mask. We need to experience and see things behind the mask for us to know how this failure can help us in the future.
Cynthia Induni says
I find that during the night things seem worse and I only focus on things that haven’t gone well.