Failure according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
1a: omission of occurrence or performance; specifically: a failing to perform a duty or expected action
b (1) : a state of inability to perform a normal function
c: a fracturing or giving way under stress
2a: lack of success b: a failing in business
3a: a falling short (deterioration or decay)
4 : one that has failed
Is it just me, or is the concept of failure taboo these days? Why do we avoid failure like a contagious disease, afraid to admit it, quick to point fingers or blame, and often making excuses instead of acknowledging the obvious? Not even our president can admit failure and I think we are all selling ourselves short as a result.
Failure is not a bad thing! As quoted by Ben Gates in the movie National Treasure, “Thomas Edison said, ‘I didn’t fail, I found 2000 ways not to make a light bulb, and only one way to make it work.’”
Yet, even this quote carries with it a negative stigma regarding failure. But to me, Thomas Edison was pointing out the obvious: He needed to fail 2000 times in order to get it right! Now, what is wrong with that?
When I first started writing, something inside me said that I could not consider myself a “good writer” if I could not create an excellent work with my first draft. If you laughed out loud at this statement, share the Tweet below:
Really, can a young writer be more naïve than I was?
During the past six months, I have tried and failed at many things. I am one to admit failure from the start and see it as a learning opportunity. In addition, I often see failure as a form of direction from God. If and when I fail, I have come to embrace it as God’s way of guiding me toward a success I may not see or understand at the present moment. I do not see failure as a negative thing, but if I confess I have failed, others rarely “fail” in trying to help me to turn around my perspective into a positive light.
In 2008, I failed at obtaining a publishing contract for a novel I wrote. Six rejections and one expensive “acceptance” by a vanity publishing company later, I set the book project in a box and turned to other things. I didn’t know at the time if I was ever meant to have that book published. But I had learned a lot about storytelling and writing in the process and believed that eventually God would reveal when it was time to pursue publication—if at all.
Then in 2012, after an amazing experience at a women’s retreat in the Northern California foothills, the women’s ministry leader told me that God said my book would be published one day. I was working on a non-fiction project at that time, but knew she was referring to my fiction novel. I remembering feeling a sense of peace and patience about all of it, and willing to let God guide me every step.
Several months later, the leader of a writer’s group that took place at our church was seated in the row in front of me. Something stirred in me and I made an effort to speak to him after service and asked him if the group was still meeting. My plan was to present my novel, one chapter a week, seeking feedback and gradually begin to work on a revised edition. My intentions were not to publish at that time, but to look at my manuscript with fresh eyes, improve it as much as I could, and increase the content so that it was at full-length (the original draft was only about 40k words and written as a young adult novel.)
After receiving feedback the first week, I was slightly discouraged. I had failed at creating an understandable introductory chapter—leaving the readers more confused than curious. A couple of the members of the group even thought my historical novel was science fiction until halfway through the chapter!
However, there were also many compliments. They enjoyed my characters and scene-setting descriptions. They commented on my “professional” style and could tell I had a formal education.
So, I decided to stay the course, take their comments, and re-write the first several chapters to create a clear context while still hooking the reader with the mystery surrounding the protagonist’s isolated upbringing.
A little over a year after that first meeting, I was signing a publishing contract that had turned into at least a two-book series!
I wish I could say I have arrived and will no longer fail as a writer or as any other role I play in this life—mother, wife, homemaker, employee, sister, friend, or daughter. I wish I could say that I have learned to avoid discouragement and pick myself up my own bootstraps whenever I miss the mark, but I can’t.
Actually, in recent months, I have felt more discouraged than ever. I have questioned God’s plan and my faith has faltered. I lost my day job back in September and have not managed to acquire adequate supplemental income.
I have failed at getting another job.
I have failed to follow through on numerous commitments due to limited resources of time, energy, and money.
I have failed to plan for my children’s birthdays, holiday celebrations, and even the meals for the day.
I have failed at recognizing all the blessings in my life as they are blurred by what I can’t do.
Failure can give us new perspectives on life. It has helped me see that what I think I want or need may not be the best for my family or me. It can also provide a stark contrast that makes us more aware of the places we have succeeded.
I may not have found another job, but I have written a draft of the entire second novel in my series, made amazing connections with online writer communities, and been able to examine my truest traits and skills.
I have learned to minimize commitments and realized that those depending on me are, for the most part, very understanding and forgiving people. They have lives and commitments as well, and I have put undue stress on myself thinking their expectations of me were more than I could achieve.
My children adjust in miraculous ways, and although it seems they demand a lot at times, they are also easily content with simple solutions. For Christmas, they hardly blinked when we said their wish list needed to be small and simple. My sixteen year old just wanted to have more than one friend spend the night on his birthday. My thirteen year old also just wanted a sleepover and to have the freedom to hang out with his friends all day. They all like hanging out with me and their dad, smiling and goofing off as a symbol of how content they are despite lacking certain luxuries of the suburban lifestyle.
Finally, it is a daily battle to focus on the things that I can control, and learn to give the rest to God and trust that He knows best despite my failures and shortcomings. He has accounted for those as well as my strengths! His mercies are new every morning, and I am more than grateful that He has allowed me to fail time and again in order to recognize the grace and miracles present in my life today.
What about you? How has failing opened your eyes to more important things? How can admitting failure help you to grow and understand your purpose in this life?