This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1:8
Nobody likes to fail; yet some of the greatest lessons in life are learned through failure. The reality, as Rick Warren has pointed out, is that “no one’s life is an unbroken chain of victories. We all experience setbacks…defeats… losses… failures.” That’s the way it is.
In every athletic contest there are winners and losers. The greatest sluggers in baseball are usually among those racking up the greatest numbers of strikeouts. It’s all part of the challenge in sports, business, marriage, and life. But there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of failure, a second-fruit, so as to speak, which is much sweeter than that of initial success.
So what can you gain from failure?
First, you can gain self-understanding. You learn more about yourself in failure situations than in successful endeavors. We recognize a dark side to our inner selves, which shows our pride, our arrogance, and our cockiness. People who eventually succeed after one or more failures are usually better adjusted, less arrogant, more gracious and appreciative. They have learned that success is complex–a combination of factors, some of which they could not manufacture or produce, contributions of others and the goodness of God that some call chance.
The second benefit of failure is that you learn what will not work. Opportunity often comes through the back door disguised as failure–probably one of the reasons so few people really learn from their failure. The classic illustration is that of Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the motion picture and the achievement which made him famous, the electric light bulb. After 2,000 experiments trying to produce an incandescent globe, he was asked why he did not quit. He replied, “I’ve found out 2000 ways it cannot be done. Now I will find out how it can be done.”
To move ahead, however, requires a certain amnesia of the past. Many people never rise from the ashes of their failures because they cannot forget. The major reason for their continued failure is that their memory is too good. Fearful of failing again, they hesitate to risk trying again. Henry Ford, the industrialist who put the world on wheels, said, “Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again” (Thoughts on Wisdom, American Heritage, New York, 1995, p. 48).
The third benefit of failure is that it allows you to move in a different direction. A friend of mine faced failure when his company went broke, so he borrowed money and took a two-week vacation. Sitting on the beach in Hawaii, he thought through his failure, and came up with a new business plan, one that eventually succeeded.
The fourth benefit of failure is that it brings an added dimension to your life–a positive one which also embraces the reality that God has much to do with what happens in our lives. Yes, godless men succeed in their endeavors, but thousands of individuals have failed, then realized that God was left out of the equation for success, and understanding the importance of knowing and serving God, they included Him in their plan for the future.
A final thought: Never forget a child falls many times before he walks. R. H. Macy failed seven times before he established the New York store that made him famous. Walt Disney declared bankruptcy twice before he succeeded. And, of course, never forget the most famous American baseball player, Babe Ruth, struck out 1,330 times as well as hit 714 home runs.
Frankly, failure has much more to teach us than success. Once you have climbed the hill, there’s no place to go but down; but having stumbled on the climb provides lots of opportunities to succeed. Think about it.
Resource reading: Joshua 1