Monday, December 14, 2015

Failure – Or Just a First Attempt?

Sometimes social media drives me crazy. The negativity, caustic comments and pompous, partisan pronouncements. And those are just from my friends and family members! (Just kidding.) But there are times when I see a post that makes me think, “That’s it! It says it all!”

One of those was a poster – I don’t know the original source – offering a refreshing take on something we’ve all encountered, probably numerous times: Failure. As a society we seem to have concluded failure’s a bad thing, something to ignore or deny. But as the words of this particular social media poster noted, if we redefine three words typically associated with failure, they can redirect us to success.

The first word was “Fail,” as in, “Woe is me! I’ve failed. How can I ever go on?” But what if we changed the word’s meaning, reinterpreting it as an acronym: “FAIL – First Attempt In Learning”? This brings to mind the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

There’s not one successful person living or dead who has avoided failure. But a big difference between those that later experienced success and those who remained mired in misery was a matter of perception. Those consigned to failure saw their efforts as meaning, “I can’t do it. I knew I couldn’t!” However, those able to leverage momentary failure into later success perceived their setbacks differently: “Well, that didn’t work. I’ll just have to try again, or take a different approach.”

A second word is “End.” A time of failure or defeat can be viewed as the end, an indication to give up. “No sense trying anymore.” Or it can be regarded as another acronym: “END – Effort Never Dies.” If every baseball player quit the first time he or she struck out, no one would be playing the game. Consistent and persistent effort often leads to proficiency and success.

Granted, there are times when we attempt something unsuccessfully and realize we haven’t enjoyed it, that it wouldn’t be worth the effort trying to become proficient. It might be painting, dancing, handicrafts, public speaking, sales, or some other pursuit. (For some people, this might include driving a car.) But even in cases like these, considering this the “end” might simply mean determining to do something else instead.

Then there’s one more word often associated with failure. It’s the dreaded “No” word. This was something I confronted while still in college, experimenting with a couple of part-time sales jobs to try and earn some extra money. After hearing “no” on several consecutive sales calls for both a book publishing company and a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, I realized I wasn’t cut out for a career in sales. Years later it was confirmed that I don’t have a single selling bone in my body.

But as with “Fail” and “End,” looking at “No” in a different way could prove revolutionary in moving toward the future. Instead of assuming that no is the equivalent of failure, we might it as yet another acronym: “NO – Next Opportunity.”

This is particularly true for job seekers. Over the years I had numerous interviews that did not lead to job offers. Resumes I sent out with high hopes didn’t merit as much as a return phone call. But I persisted, determining that if one door closed, another would open somewhere else. And as it turned out, after receiving a “no” more times than I would have liked, the “next opportunity” proved to be better than I could have imagined.

Knowing our tendency to become disheartened when confronted by failure, God offers many passages that encourage us to “keep on keepin’ on.” One of my favorites is Galatians 6:9, which urges, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (lose heart).”

Sometimes our spiritual pursuits also seem paved with failure. But again we’re reminded to persevere: “Therefore, my brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). As with trying to grow a garden, when we must wait patiently to see tomatoes or green beans or whatever seeds we’ve planted finally germinate, we might not see immediate results from our spiritual labors. But we know that in time we’ll reap a harvest – in our own lives and in the lives of people God directs our way.

We also have this promise to cling to when failure seems certain: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Sounds like good news – especially since God never fails.

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