Free to Fail



“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)


As a culture, we have convinced ourselves that we have to be the biggest, brightest, most successful, or wealthiest, or we have failed. We have trained ourselves and our children, me included, to believe that failure is not an option. In fact, many respectable sources tell us that the way to ensure that we will reach our goals is to not even have a plan B. Plan A is the only possibility.


Don’t get me wrong: I am all for aiming high. It’s important not to underestimate the value in setting goals for ourselves. Constructing an ambitious plan, putting in the necessary time and effort to make it a reality, and never giving up are all admirable.


This ambition and drive—the feeling of being imperviable to failure—are to be applauded. But they come at a price. The price is our sense of personal peace. We lie awake at night obsessing about our failures and how we can work harder to be…well, perfect. The reason that adults and children alike are experiencing anxiety issues at unprecedented levels is because we have told ourselves that failure isn’t an option. If something doesn’t go according to plan, we are weak and imperfect.


Guess what…we’re by default weak and imperfect. Let yourself off the hook.


So, what if we fail? What happens when failure turns out to be a viable option? There are times when our plan of playing professional baseball, going to law school, joining the military, performing on Broadway, or being signed by a major record label doesn’t materialize in the timeframe that we are convinced it would. Our window for fulfilling our dreams is closing fast, or at least we tell ourselves this. Despite our best efforts, there are times when plan A becomes a tiny speck in the rearview mirror. Should we just quit or lower our expectations?


The fear of failure doesn’t just apply to long-term, “dream big” goals either. This fear is constantly on our minds in our day-to-day routines. We’re afraid that we won’t get everything done on our to-do list today, or that the proposal we’ve spent the last six weeks putting together at work will be rejected, or that we will mess up the recipe that we’re making for dinner tonight, or that our spouse won’t like the birthday gift we bought for them, and the list goes on.


Let’s not forget that “trial and error” is often the most effective process for determining the best and most successful solution to any problem. We want to be perfect on the first try, but that’s just not realistic or productive.


Think about it this way: let’s say that you have vacation plans in Florida with your family. You’ve planned for three months for this trip, and the car is now loaded and everyone is ready for a road trip. The first ten hours of the journey go by without incident, but as you are heading south on I-95 through Georgia, there’s a flashing sign saying, “Road Closed Ahead.” Flooding has caused a road closure on your current route. What do you do now? Do you turn around and go back home?


Of course not. You find a detour to get around the roadblock so that you can continue toward your destination.


Failure can actually be a springboard to success, taking us places that we would not typically go if we had never encountered obstacles. It causes us to work harder, dream bigger, and think outside of the proverbial box. It appears that there is a certain level of success that can only be accessed by the will, opportunities, and grit that come as a direct result from failure and setbacks. G. K. Chesterton, a theologian from the early twentieth century said this: “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”


Personally, I’ve observed that there are very few pathways to success that do not originate, or at the very least travel through, the valley of rejection and trials.


Success is a funny thing. It can’t be predicted with a formula; intelligence, skill, and opportunity do not guarantee achievement. When success comes too quickly and too easily, it’s very hard to sustain. This, in turn, causes even more anxiety!


I have understood for a long time that God has a plan and purpose for my life, but what I have recently come to appreciate is that failure—missteps, rejection, and disappointments—is an important part of His plan for me. My failures, more than my successes, have shaped who I am and presented a path forward.


Is your quest for perfection costing your personal peace? Embrace failure. Often it can open the door to greater success.

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