Failure is inevitable.
Let me say that again. Failure is inevitable.
I was raised with a “failure is not an option” mentality, and when you’re surrounded by that narrative, this truth can be doubly hard to accept. But if my first year out of college has taught me anything, it’s that failure should actually be embraced rather than escaped.
The truth of it is, failure is an indicator that we are leading a fulfilling life. When I was told “failure is not an option” what they were trying to say was “excellence is not an option.” Excellence and failure can actually coexist quite well. In fact, I would argue that they feed off of each other, needing one another to exist, but only on certain terms. This is where this lovely little catchphrase, “fail forward” comes in. I don’t remember where I first heard the phrase “fail forward”. All I know is that it stuck with me and has been a meditation of mine for about a year now.
When we inevitably fail in our attempts at our dreams, or even daily tasks, we are presented with three options:
1. Sit in the failure and self-deprecate in an attempt to avoid the possibility again
2. Ignore the failure and keep trying the same thing again and again with no success
3. Take failure in full stride, wear it on you like a fresh suit, and walk in the confidence that that particular failure will set you up for your next success
It’s all about how you interact with your failures, and whether or not you will own them and learn from them. In choir, I am admonished by my director to never make the same mistake twice, and in the same breath encouraged to make LOUD mistakes. Why? So we can move forward as an ensemble and grow together toward the goal of excellence. When you read a piece of music, and have a pencil in hand, you are expected in a professional group to mark your mistakes so you can look out for them, learn from them, and do that section better than the last pass. The goal is to be excellent, together.
Notice I did not say “perfection”. Because outside of God, perfection does not exist. We are human beings making human things, in a fallen world that is being reconciled but not fully perfected until Jesus returns. However, we are admonished as humanity to pursue excellence in all we do, meaning that we pursue the very best we are capable of at any given moment.
Excellence – /n./ the quality of being outstanding or extremely good. syn: brilliance, distinction, quality, greatness
Failing forward allows us to pursue excellence in light of our shortcomings. We are allowed to mess up because it sets the stage for excellence to be cultivated. You hear it all the time: great people who have achieved great things (Edison, Disney, Einstein, etc.) didn’t become great or excellent overnight. Many of them have their biggest failures on blast in history books for all to see, and yet none of them were defined by their failures due to one thing: their ability to fail forward. They didn’t let their failures pull them back into a complacent fearfulness about their potential. They used those failures as catapults for their next big dream, recognizing that greatness comes with time, patience, and a willingness to try a new thing again and again and again until growth is produced. Does that mean they never sat in their failure and moped? Definitely not. But they learned the art of failing forward more times than not, allowing themselves the opportunity to try again from a fresh angle.
This year I’ve already failed big in several areas: work, love, mommy-hood (my puppy is cuter than yours, paws down), finances, and friendship. But the difference has been a change of mindset. Late last year I realized that if I kept berating myself every time I screwed up, it took 1000000 times longer to get farther in said area. I had to pull back, reevaluate my heart, and recognize who God created me to be. Failing poorly is often a result of fear. Fear that we aren’t enough, that failure means we fall too short to used by God or succeed at anything. Fear that we will be laughed at, ridiculed, or proven “right” in our poor view of ourselves.
In this planner I got myself at the end of 2016, there is a page where you list your fears and respond with bible verses. The only way to attack fear and conquer it is to speak the truth. Our eyes get so easily clouded by the lies that we open ourselves up to, and the only way to clarity is to continually remind yourself of what is true, good, and lovely in this wonderful life of yours. The God who created you intended for you to rise above and accomplish good works for His glory (Ephesians 2:10), and the devil will do everything in his power to stop you from believing that. So, we must turn to Jesus and His Word, trusting that what He says about us is more right and true than our feelings or what other people have to say.
Excellence will always be achieved if we allow ourselves the grace to fail, and fail big and fail forward. Failures can have the power to launch us into something greater and more unexpectedly marvelous than we ever imagined.
I decided to take a risk this year, even after all the ways I felt I had failed, and try something I thought would be a disaster. I participated in Disney’s Flashback production, and my, oh my, let me tell you: I failed big time at the start, and kept making huge mistakes throughout the process. However, I let those failures shape me, mold me, and challenge me to dig deeper into myself to pull out the excellence I knew was there. This last Thursday we closed our last show, and I have not felt that much pride and delight in a VERY long time. I remember even telling my fellow cast “I really don’t think I can do this” on several occasions.
But I did it anyway. I went for it anyway. I loved and worked and danced (ish…) and sang out anyway. And I’ve gained so darn much from that show that I will treasure. I met beautiful people that will no doubt be in my life for many years to come, I showed my department the talents I never felt comfortable sharing before, I took charge when I felt like hanging back and following along and saw those efforts pay off in a huge way. I also literally looked like a freaking Goddess while doing it (thanks, Bri! You makeup master, you.)
These ladies are some of the fiercest, most talented women I’ve ever met. That’s me in the center. I KNOW, right?? Bri is a magician with a makeup palette and a few wigs.
I’m not saying there will always be glamorous pinnacles and mountain top experiences for our failures, but I am saying that embracing failure and the risk of it as an inevitable outcome in life will set you up far better for success and fulfillment. So many people live life trying to avoid failure, and they wonder why they never get anywhere or aren’t being fulfilled. They are run by their fears, controlled by their emotional whims, and let down by their own mentality of “can’t” or “it’s not even worth it to try”. If you hear one thing today, let it be this: It’s ALWAYS worth it to try. I’ve given up looking graceful while trying to dance. I’ve given up sounding flawless the first time I try out vocal runs. I’ve ditched the idea that someday I will be perfect at these things I work toward. I’ve left behind the fear of looking silly or inept, because I know it’s bound to happen and it’s 100x worse in my head than other people’s hearts. No matter how big I fail, I am loved deeply by my Creator and there is nothing that can diminish my worth.
My prayer is that we may all find the grace within ourselves to let failure strengthen us rather than overtake us. Toddlers must fall hard on their bottoms before they are walking around like tiny drunk adults. My puppy needs to skid into the hutch a few dozen times before he remembers to slow down early to chase his ball across the kitchen floor. And I need to fall forward a few hundred times before I develop the strength to pursue all the wild, crazy dreams God has put into my heart.
Dreams and goals aren’t meant to stay on paper. They need to get off the page and try a few different looks on for size. They need to breathe and grow and stretch into reality bit by bit, allowing the “what ifs” to fan the flame rather than quench the fire. The people who accomplished huge lists of great things no doubt have an accompanying longer list of failures that got them there. You can’t change the world by hiding from the inevitable. Failure is an opportunity to grow upward and out of your present circumstances and become better.
You should dream so big that it scares you. Because you might actually do it, and it just might change the world. But you never know until you try. If you can find the courage to dream impossible dreams, then you’re one step closer to doing impossible things. Silence the voice of “can’t”. I’m here to ask you, “What if you can?”