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A Better Way To Think About Your Failures

suitcases-cropI once thought my destiny was to be an NHL-er. I did pretty well for a while. But I was no Sydney Crosby.

I “failed” at that.

Then I thought I was supposed to be a professional musician. I recently dug out some rejection letters from record companies and artist management firms. Warner Music’s form letter is actually pretty funny: “If you do not hear back from us within the next 60 days, we have decided not to pursue your submitted material any further.” No, I didn’t hear.

Then I got the same letter the next year!

For a while my music prospects were solid: I recorded some songs with a major publisher, won some contests, did a CD and got some radio play. But in the end something was clear: I liked songwriting but grew to dislike performing and the business side of things. Plus, even though music is a subjective thing, I’m sure that I wasn’t as good as a lot of other people out there.

You could say I… “failed.”

Those are the easy ones to talk about. We all have ones that go much deeper, that are more raw.

We’ve all failed at things. Or, at least, most of us have. It’s a dream, or career-trajectory, or relationship, or friendship, or…?

Some failure is like birth, death and taxes: Inevitable.

On one hand (for certain people) failure can be dangerous. Some people who think of themselves as perpetual failures can become angry tigers, ready to lash out to avenge themselves and the injustice they’ve been served.

Or it can just anchor you down as you try to swim in the funky-flavoured illusion of your own defeat.

But you are not your failures.

In fact, Failure can be a great teacher. For this to happen I think a few things need to happen:

1. Face it

When we fail it’s natural to try and ‘move on’ without facing our experience, however difficult. Who wants to dwell? Sure, maybe you did seriously mess something up. But it doesn’t have to be a brick wall. Taking a good look at your experience is a chance to examine the heart. Ask questions like:

  • What were my motivations? Were they humble and honourable?
  • Why do I feel like I failed? Failed according to who?
  • Was there something bigger happening that I couldn’t see?
  • How was I being grown through this?

2. Know who you are

As a person of faith I keep returning to who I am. It’s essential in a world of muck. You and I are not a random smattering of atoms, but people crafted in a loving Heart. I have kids, and there is nothing they can do that would make me love them less.

But when I slide back into the thinking that I am the sum total of my ‘accomplishments’ it’s a short route to chaos—doubt and uncertainty of my place in the cosmos.

But in the words of Tim Keller, “If we really understood how God regards us in Christ, we could take disapproval and failure in stride.” When it comes to God’s love whatever strings are attached are usually ones we put there ourselves.

3. Trust that God’s plan for you is better for you than your plan for you

We all have a plan for ourselves (at least quietly). We think we want to play in the NHL, or be a ladder-climber, or have the “perfect” family or house. And then plan B turns to plan C.

But “failure” is never the end of the story. If you look at many “successful” people (no matter how you define success), a consistency is often found in the habit of humbly looking at faults and learning from them.

When I look back at my own life I can see how every experience has been leading me to where I am. God has been preparing me to be a pastor. His plan for me is better for me than my plan for me.

  • I was being prepared in the everyday experiences of a kid growing up in Canadian arenas making authentic friendships and building confidence.
  • I was being prepared in the high-stress and people-rich culture of working at Queen’s Park.
  • I was being prepared in the music-making environs of the art scene and it’s celebration of creativity.
  • I was being prepared in the relationships gone wrong, embarrassing decisions, and otherwise regrettable gnarls that populate life’s road.

Failures are never final. Unless you let them be the neck-swinging cinder blocks we all fear they are.

God plan for me is better for me than my plan for me. And it’s still evolving. What about you?

What if God has a bigger plan for you, something more authentic for the real you—something with a bit of a rugged training ground, but which is more awe-inspiring than what you can see on your own?

Staring down at your feet doesn’t help.

There’s a story about Thomas Edison. Apparently it took him 1000 tries to get the light bulb right. A reporter asked him how it felt to fail 1000 times. he said, “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.”

Welcome to your life. You are an invention with 1000 steps.

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