It’s not a happy word. But it’s got some serious weight; I’ll give it that. Still, it’s illusory. Hollow. An outright lie. And I’ll tell you why.
YOU’RE ONLY A FAILURE IF YOU STOP TRYING.
Ah, now…that’s better.
Wow, that’s something to wake up with. When I conjure them, I nearly always have blog posts in my head right upon awakening. I guess I just feel a need to school people on failure – after all, I’ve had a LOT of experience, making me an expert!
Failure is a label oft’ misused in place of more accurate phrases such as: life lessons, temporary setbacks, process of elimination, narrowing one’s focus, character building, and general progress.
“What? That’s almost the antithesis of the word failure,” you may blurt. Oh, now come on; we all know the saying that the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference (however much we may disagree with that axiom when there is genuine hate; I’m certainly not indifferent to nor enamored of, say, terrorists or child molesters or people who prey on others’ livelihoods). The point is, you have to take the concept of failure and turn it inside out, examine it for what it is, and take away the mystery.
I won’t take the word away from you and tell you to replace it with some watered down substitute. I just want you to take that seemingly sinister word and change what it means to you: to change it into something far less foreboding and intimidating, to figuratively whip its butt and tell it who’s boss.
- Failure is proof positive that you tried something. People who don’t make mistakes aren’t very busy.
- Failure teaches you what you don’t want – and that’s just as important as knowing what you do want.
- Failure leads you to analyze and research what went wrong and what to do differently next time.
- Failure toughens you up and smartens you up, each and every time you survive it.
- In short, failure is just another step toward success. It’s progress. It’s opportunity.
Another thing that makes people think they’ve failed is having expectations that are unrealistically lofty to begin with. We sometimes expect too much of ourselves (or others expect too much from us and/or those around them). Not everyone is destined to be a celebrity in his or her field of endeavor, or to make a sweeping change to better the world. Most of those who do only did so with the help of countless (often unacknowledged) helpers in the wings, without whose help nothing would have been accomplished. Each person’s contribution, no matter how thankless, is a vital cog in the machine, and ultimately, it isn’t getting credit that is important – it’s achieving the goal, however big or small.
And how small is too small to matter? Everything matters. You may not think that weak smile and sincere “thank you” that you mustered to the nurse is worth anything, but I dare you to say that to her – she might have felt at that moment, for other reasons, that all her hours and her education were not paying off, and then she saw that someone noticed. No, she’s not doing it for the recognition, but instead to know that she can help others – still, now and again we all need a little encouragement when under the yoke. That kind word at the right time can make an epic difference to someone; you don’t know how they might be suffering behind that brave façade. And you could make their day…or week. You could help them make a major decision. And you may never know it – but you’re not doing it for credit.
Little things we do can make a big impact. There are successes you’ve had without even realizing it.
Trust that this is true. Spread spontaneous kudos. Share pearls of wisdom. Do it – because you can – not because collateral benefits may include winning allies. It’s easy, it’s free, and it doesn’t hurt a bit.
Although: “No man is a failure who has friends.” – Mark Twain….But sorry, social-media-only contacts and drinking-buddy bums don’t really count. He’s talking deep, committed relationships, and that can include family or anyone else you have a meaningful influence on and from.
Finally, you must analyze by whose judgment you have “failed” – in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Does their opinion really matter? Who is the they that you succumb to?
It matters not if you submit your activities to the masses. Only you know your true intent, compared to them. If you are God-fearing, then you know that God also knows your intent better than even you do, as we often are in denial and fool ourselves in weakness to one fear or another desire or some other motivating or limiting factor. Our baser instincts can distract us and sway us from reality. Are you submitting to the fickle opinions of the world? I don’t mean the ones that keep society functional, like laws and ethics – those obviously you must observe and follow unless they are proven to be unjust. What I mean is: are you a slave to little traditions and trends, like not wearing white after Labor Day or having to blow your money on every new gadget to look cool? Just who makes these rules, what’s their agenda, and why do these kinds of rules matter? People used to think having a record player was advanced when those first came out; now many shun them, yet those who appreciate a warmer tone treasure them. Who’s right/wrong? Both. Everyone has been telling me for a decade I should get on social media, but although I could see some advantage to doing so in the near future, I haven’t suffered one bit from lack of participation thus far – it’s just not that important to me. There are some who, I’m sure, would look at me like I had three heads for feeling that way, because they can’t imagine being disconnected from their virtual world for five minutes; I, on the other hand, feel positively liberated; even creatively empowered in my isolation. The key is to find what makes you happy, not what makes “them” happy. Why bend to peer pressure mentality, and why would you give that power to others regarding such insignificant facets of life? They won’t curate your life to your satisfaction – only you can do that.
Some people blame their failures on others. True, once in a while there are those whose purpose is to foil your plans, to steal your thunder: to take credit for your success or blame you for their own duds. I have known at least one of these types of people at every job I’ve ever worked. (Note that I’m a freelancer now). These people are a fact of life – but don’t be one. Look at your life and what you blame on others. Perhaps someone, a boss or a parent, held you back from some opportunity – and you have a right to regret and even grieve that – but that has an expiration date. Your life didn’t end at that moment. Take accountability for yourself – you could have done something else about it afterward. You are an autonomous adult making your own decisions, are you not? You could have better used your time, gone to that school, tried for that better job somehow – if you had the gumption. Motivated people do accomplish an awful lot. Some call it stubbornness, but flip to the good side of that coin and it’s called things like determination and perseverance. It’s a bitter pill to swallow: that you might have to take responsibility for your own subsequent life choices – but is it any more bitter than festering in your resentment over that one thing you blame on someone else, while denying your own culpability on all else? It’s your life and you have to fight for it. It’s nobody else’s job to fight for your best interests. Grow up and make it right – or else quit whining, blaming, and taking it out on everyone around you.
Failure is a state of mind, and it’s often an illusion; if anything, it’s temporary – because with every failure (and barring any dogged devotion to things that clearly haven’t worked), the odds improve that next time will be a success. And every failure takes you closer. Then you’ll have success – and then maybe fall down again – don’t let it daunt you. This track called life is one that lurches forward, so stop looking back – except to gain wisdom – and then apply it now, and ahead.
People make the mistake of thinking that someone is a failure when they only have failures. And those who are judging have failed as well; anyone who claims otherwise is lying. Some may even look at themselves as failures, instead of merely having had failures. And anyone who is successful will tell you that they failed a lot to get where they are! This is the process of finding your way: you try something, fall on your face, get up, try something different, rinse and repeat once or a few dozen times, and then through the process of elimination or a brilliant idea sparked by the knowledge you earned through other tries, you come upon the right solution. You can’t achieve anything without also risking failure. Distinct shadows exist only in the context of light.
As a growing artist, I shun stagnation; therefore I must experiment, and there have been plenty of failed experiments before I found new techniques that worked. You must be willing to risk failure in order to gain. That’s worth repeating: YOU MUST BE WILLING TO RISK FAILURE IN ORDER TO GAIN. In any investment there is a possibility of loss, because all of the factors are not always up to you. Fail? Just try anew. This is like life. This same concept can be applied in all scales, great and small: from the task of potty-training your toddler to overhauling your career, from working in a new media to starting a movement, from changing a tire for the first time to mastering a language; all activities of mankind are endeavors that involve trial and error to some degree – and none of us is realistically expected to be perfect. Keep trying – try again, try harder, try smarter or better, try something different as the results lead you – but keep trying. Embrace your beautifully flawed and unique humanness, and be the best that you can be within that shifting, progressing paradigm.
As a Christian, I read in the Bible that we were never expected to have the capacity to become perfect, because only the triune God of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit is perfect. We strive to become Christ-like, and that is an ongoing journey, yet never the destination, because we never get there and we’re never “done” trying. As many times as we fail, He will forgive us. As long as we keep trying, He sees that. And it doesn’t matter a whit what others see, because they don’t know our heart, but He knows it better than we ourselves do. Our results may not be in alignment with our motivation, but He sees our longing and our intent, and it counts. It matters. And if it doesn’t matter to anyone else; if no one else sees or acknowledges our efforts, it’s irrelevant because He sees them, and knows the sincerity behind it all. This yields the ultimate freedom to continue trying earnestly.
If you’re not a Christian, but you want to understand our motivation and beliefs more accurately, I encourage you to read the book of John in the Bible (or any of the parallel gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke); it’s very true to the comprehensive message of Christ, and a good starting point. Another good one to start appreciating the Word is Proverbs. If you feel lost and ineffective and useless, you can find the answers to these questions of life all around in the Word of the Bible, when the world only leads you astray. Don’t just listen to what others say about the Bible; get a good study Bible and read it and the cross-reference notes for yourself, and then ask questions of respected pastors when you get stuck. The Bible is complex, and some of the historical “begat’s” are tedious (don’t get bogged down; just go to John) and there are many misconceptions out there that are wrongly presented as factual. The Bible is one of the most misquoted tomes in the world, often with passages being taken out of context and twisted to an aberration opposite their true meaning. Take the initiative to see for yourself, and know that it’s not just all out there on the surface; you have to invest a lot of time, and dig. You’ll find it frustrating, fascinating, and increasingly compelling. For instance, before I was saved, I thought that the Old Testament and New Testament had a lot of inconsistencies and contradicted each other. I did not think that because I had read it, though, because frankly, I hadn’t. I thought that because I had taken, at face value, the statement that they contradicted from someone else – someone whose credentials I didn’t even question! Even if they had read those portions about which they complained, they didn’t study it enough to understand why it seems that way or the reason behind it. They never told me about dispensations or what they mean. They didn’t know. Of course the rules are different in the dispensation of Grace because Christ has already come to save mankind, and man can now have salvation through accepting Him as his personal Savior. They didn’t have that option in the Old Testament in previous dispensations such as Law or Human Government or Innocence or the others, because He hadn’t yet manifested Himself on Earth to walk alongside us and die for us and rise again to absolve us of our sins if we accept His offer – by His doing this He changed everything! Other earlier dispensations progressed as man progressed; changes were allowed in different times because of man’s capacity (or incapacity) to understand them. The Bible shows that the relationship between God and man changes, because man Himself evolves in mind and spirit – and God accommodates that. Oh, well, funny these detractors from the Word didn’t mention that…because they didn’t know it! So don’t just accept what they tell you. They aren’t acting or speaking in your best interests. I finally took it upon myself to learn more, and I learned far differently than I had been told before by those who were uninformed – or worse, had a dubious agenda. Seek knowledge where it resides. Any good pastor will gladly make an appointment to address any questions you have without judgment. If you happen upon one whom you feel doesn’t have that attitude, that’s only a cue to try a different church; they’re not perfect and some are better than others – just like is true of individual people. Good grounded pastors know that we are all seekers, that some folks are ahead or in back of us on the track, but we who seek Him get there in God’s time, and no one has the right to say, “Why are you so far behind?” because each of us is behind someone else still – if that makes sense. I sure took my sweet time, so I am aware that I need to be patient with others who aren’t where I am yet, knowing that I have, figuratively speaking, light years to catch up to even more folks of my acquaintance (and I’m honored to have them as mentors).
Well, I didn’t mean that to be so wordy, but some things are inherently complex if you try to explain them to an audience, a part of whom likely hasn’t met that information yet. I’d say a picture is worth a thousand words, but on that topic, I’m just not that good of an artist…yet. 🙂
I went into the faith aspect of life because it’s extremely pertinent to mankind’s perception of failure. God gives me the strength to keep going. People might think I’m exaggerating to say that, but they don’t know what I’ve been through. Those that saw me lose half my family to cancer and two jobs and my health within 14 months some time back, knew what I’d been through, and a couple actually said, “If I’d been through that I would have killed myself already” (an utterance I highly discourage since it’s likely being addressed to someone who is contemplating that very action, as I had been) – but nothing short of God’s helping Hand could have held me safely back from that fate. I am very self-analytical and know where my abilities exist and end, and where my limitations are negated and surpassed by God’s power. Testify.
I have come back from many failures and tragedies. I have had blinding pain and agonizing grief and crushing blows to my fragile ego – and through growing faith, stubborn will, and nothing truly better to do, I bounced back. I’ve even had some successes here and there. Imagine that.
You can, too.
So, just to recap….
YOU’RE ONLY A FAILURE IF YOU STOP TRYING.
Keep the faith.
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