A couple weeks ago, my boss asked me to share something during our team meeting. "I'd love to," I told her, and thought of all the wonderful insights my years of work experienced taught me.
The morning of the meeting, I had nothing. Not a single thought that held any worth or value in my mind. So typical.
As is my habit, I spent a little quiet time praying and reflecting on some Bible verses. Immediately, my mind went to the many difficulties my family and I recently faced, the things that had been going wrong in my personal work, and the ways I'd been feeling frustrated.
"Great," I thought. "I'll just share about all my failures. That will be so helpful."
And then I thought, "Oh my gosh. I can share about all my failures, and that will actually be helpful."
What I'd been learning about failure through my own life circumstances is that you can actually recover from it. More than that. I believe that you can actually learn from it and come out stronger on the other side.
Last week, I talked a little bit about practicing your comeback - what you do after you mess up. Looking for ways to grow, improve, tweak your design or approach is almost more important than succeeding the first time.
Today I want to offer just a couple thoughts about what failure actually is and is not. If we're going to embrace it - and I would argue that we wholeheartedly should - we need to know what we're wrapping our arms around.
WHAT IT IS
I'm going to come from the position that failure is one of the greatest assets we possess. It's that grain of sand in the center of the pearl. But we had to put it in its proper place. So what is it exactly? Failure is:
Unavoidable - It's a natural part of the learning process. Almost by definition, you're going to make a mess of things - especially the first couple times - until you begin shaping and honing your skills. When you see it as an expected part of growth, it becomes less threatening.
An opportunity to be grateful - I know this sounds ridiculous, but failing at something means you had the opportunity, the talent, the skill, the means to try. Flip the situation on its head by keep an eye out for the silver lining. This isn't blind optimism, it's a progressive perspective.
A time to honestly self-reflect - No matter what went wrong, own it. Take responsibility for your part - big or small. Think about what you need to do differently. Blaming and pointing fingers does nothing to help us learn and move forward.
A chance to practice your comeback - Check out last week's post here to learn more about what it means to practice your comeback.
WHAT IT ISN'T
Look, failure isn't a death sentence. No one here is advocating for doing this half-hearted or with the intention to produce anything less than one's best. But let's face it. Stuff happens. Most days, things don't go as I plan them. That's why I want to become more resilient. I want to keep mistakes in their proper place and learn how to move on instead of dwelling on negativity. That's why it's important to know what failure isn't.
A license for irresponsibility or complacency - This isn't about throwing up your hands and saying, "Who cares?" But failure is also not an indicator of being irresponsible or complacent. Nine times out of ten, it shows a willingness to take risks and color outside the lines. It's so important to be aware of both takes on it.
A personal fault or shortcoming - Just because the printer screwed up your graphs and you tanked on the presentation doesn't mean you're some kind of loser. I've said it already, but it's worth mentioning again: put a mistake in its place. Just as you need to own your part in failure, you also need to recognize when unfortunate things happen and it's rotten luck. Mature discernment is being able to distinguish between the two and move on.
A prediction of future outcomes - Don't fall into the "always" or "never" trap. Failure isn't a predictor of the future...if you learn and make changes.
A place to linger - When I was a little girl, my mom used to sing a goofy song to me when I'd fall or get mad. "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again." When you put failure in its place, it become a building block or a stepping stone instead of a millstone around your neck.
As you approach a failure (mistake, stumbling block, whatever), keep these five steps in mind as you work to get past and grow from it:
Own your part of it
Honestly reflect on it
Look for ways to improve, correct, learn
Put failure in its proper place
Move forward in grace
Your next mess-up could be your greatest lesson.