Fail Forward

June 1, 2020

By David VanEpps

Thomas Edison, who was considered as a kid to be stupid, once said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”  Edison knew that there is no success without failure. Failure is simply learning what will and won’t work. Imagine if Edison quit after the 1st attempt, the 3rd attempt, the 999th attempt? Albert Einstein couldn’t speak until he was 4 years old and was also considered to be of below average intelligence. Henry Ford failed and went broke five different times before he became successful. Walt Disney was fired once for his alleged lack of imagination.  Imagine the world if these people allowed failure to define them, not refine them?

Thru failure comes learning, thru learning comes improvement, thru improvement comes excellence, thru excellence comes legacy

God’s Word on Failing Forward

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” ~Romans 5:3-5. The apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Romans, knew failure and suffering more than most. Paul spent much of his life locked in prisons for spreading the news about Jesus Christ. Paul knew that failure and suffering aren’t the end, they’re a means to improve. He realized that we should rejoice in our failures and suffering because they shape and refine us.

Fear of Failure

Think of a time when you didn’t try something because you were afraid to fail. It happens to all of us. Prior to becoming a triathlete, I was asked to join a team of triathletes and train with them for a full distance Ironman. I didn’t want to. I was afraid that if I joined, I would fail. If I failed, it would mean that I’m not good enough, I’m a failure, and that I don’t have what it takes. Haven’t we all felt that way? Maybe your fear of failure is tied to a potential new job, a potential new relationship, a potential new class or skill, a potential new activity, a potential new social circle. Realize your fear, and then give it a shot anyway.  Nobody is perfect – we’ve all failed!

You’ve Already Won

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~John 16:33. Nearly 2000 years ago, Jesus said these words, knowing that we’d all face adversity, we’d encounter trouble, and we’d fail. However, His message gives us hope because He says, “I have overcome the world.”  Jesus faced the enemy, He faced defeat, and He won. Because Jesus lives in us, we inherit this victory from Him.

Failure Refines You

My favorite analogy is that failure is more like a bruise than a tattoo. Failure isn’t permanent. Failure doesn’t define you. If used properly, failure will refine you. That’s the concept of failing forward – learning the lessons from the experience, applying those learnings, and trying again. Yet too many people are afraid that failure will forever define them, so they take the easy way out. Thomas Edison’s story best exemplifies this concept. He failed 1,000 times, but instead of using that failure to define himself as a failure, he used it to refine himself as one of the greatest innovators of all time. Failure doesn’t define you; it refines you.

Failure is your way of telling the world that you haven’t yet figured this out. It’s your way of telling the world you are getting closer to the solution because you found another approach that won’t work. It’s a stepping-stone on the way to victory. Failure is a tool. It’s an opportunity to learn. It’s an opportunity to reassess your approach. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate patience, resilience, character, and fortitude. It’s an opportunity to set aside your ego, humble yourself, and accept that neither you nor I are perfect. We’re human. We’re broken. We make mistakes. We’re imperfect. And that’s okay. While we were in fact wonderfully made in the image of God, we were also made to experience trouble, suffering, and failure. The failure, however, was never meant to define us— it was meant to refine us on the way to success.

Make Failure Actionable

Start by doing an honest introspection of how you currently handle failure. Do you get angry, blame others, get defensive, make excuses? That’s okay if you said yes – most people do. Starting this second, you have the power to change that response going forward. Make a commitment to yourself to demonstrate resilience when, not if, you fail. Accept failure as a part of life. Allow yourself and others to fail. Consider failure to be a learning opportunity. Make it a point to ask yourself a few key questions: what went wrong, why did it go wrong, what could you have done differently, how can you apply these learnings in the future?

Put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ with the knowledge that He predicted our trouble, He faced trouble, He won, and He has given us victory in His name. Maybe even take it to an extreme, and when you fail, rejoice. Rejoice knowing that through your suffering you will produce endurance, character, and ultimately hope. God has a perfect plan for your life. Surrender your plan to His and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

  1. Brian P. says:

    Wow – thank you so much for this.

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