Week One: An Honest Look at Failure
Nobody likes the word failure. It brings up images and feelings of defeat, of loss, of suffering and shame. I admit when I read my assigned topic, I thought, “Why do I have to write about something so depressing and negative? Nobody wants to read about failure.” I don’t even want to think about the times I’ve failed. Those thoughts are in mental closet labeled “Bad Things Inside! Keep Out!”
After I pulled my emotional self (which was clinging to the ceiling like a terrified kitten) down to the level where the rational people live, I calmed down enough to start exploring the idea. Like a lot of writers, I decided to look up the word I’m writing about as a starting point. To my surprise, the first definition offered by Webster for failure is, “to deceive.” As Christian women we know who’s involved anytime the word deceive is mentioned. We know deception is always from the devil.
Let me share a failure with you.
I owned an advertising agency about 10 years ago. Over several years we had built an impressive client base including a national food account, a large teaching hospital, a local retailer, and several arts/cultural organizations. Our staff included people who brought a real spirit of excellence to their work and were warm-hearted and fun to be around. We had expanded and remodeled our office space and upgraded our equipment.
Within one week, we lost two of our largest accounts and a fire was set in the office complex in which we were housed. We found that we were under-insured and these losses happened at the time of year when the agency was most financially extended and therefore most vulnerable.
We had to close shop and eventually were forced into bankruptcy. The agency failed. I had failed. I was a failure. At that time, the best we could do was help our employees find jobs, assist our clients find other agencies or free lancers to take over the work and to salvage and donate equipment and furnishings to others.
I was devastated. I was depressed. It was hard to understand why it happened to us and it was even harder to get out of bed each day and keep going.
A New Perspective
Years later, in very different circumstances, I ran into several former staff members and clients. They told me the agency was a success! One told me it was the best place she has ever worked. She said, “I did some of my best work there and I really learned how to be a professional. We all got along so well it was fun to come to work.”
Another told me he would never forget how we made calls and helped him secure a new job. He said, “I never missed a paycheck because of what you did.” During a chance meeting at a professional conference a former client said that they still use elements of the public relations and crisis communications plan our agency developed. She said, “Your work has really stood the test of time.”
So, what I came to realize (and I am grateful that God allowed me to get the message) is that we created a business which provided a nurturing work environment and produced excellent work for clients. Both of those accomplishments required a lot of hard work and had a lasting and positive impact in the lives of our staff and for our clients. They were the true measure of our success.
The one-size fits all definition of success – wealth, fame, possessions – is a deception. It is reinforced by the media, by teachers, business leaders and sadly, sometimes even by pastors and ministers. My failure helped me grow in spirit, become a wiser business person, and know in my soul that the only true failure is not to try; not to do the very best that you are capable of doing; not to work with the idea of serving others; not to do all things as unto God.
I am blessed to have an agency again. The agency I have now provides me with a comfortable living, allows me to work with family, allows me to work a far less stressful schedule, and to work with a variety of interesting clients producing excellent work. I still have dreams and ambitions for the agency and for myself. Because of this, I know there is the possibility of failure for sure in my future! I also know I will weather future failures with far more grace than I had before.
Most people have been so conditioned, or socialized to believe that failure is final, we have been taught to avoid failure (or even the appearance of failure) at all costs. Even the very word can make us fearful — so fearful that we forget that success is the next step.
Yes, its one of those spiritual laws, that success ALWAYS follows what you believe is failure. Keep the truth in your heart that at the crucifixion Jesus was considered a failure. He had not come into a kingdom of worldly wealth, it seemed as if he had no power (not even to save his own life), most of his supporters had abandoned him and were hiding in fear. Not a very successful ministry at all. But, in three short days He rose from the dead with the keys of heaven and hell, life and death, and all power in His hands. His success is our success.
This is where it really gets interesting. Although the world’s definition for failure is a deception, there can be real failure in the sight of God. Meditate on what real failure is. It is not having a low bank balance or a small office or even a small staff.
- Real failure is not walking in integrity.
- Real failure is not doing your best.
- Real failure is not honoring God in your work.
- Real failure is not putting God first in your life.
- Real failure is being unkind.
- Real failure is being impatient.
- Real failure is not helping others when you can.
- Real failure is always putting your work before your family.
- Real failure is not getting enough rest to keep you in good spirits.
- Real failure is creating a life so out of balance and filled with so much stress that it causes poor health.
When we look at these measures, many of us would be counted as failures. However, the good news is, with God we can grow into success through Christ. I know you are thinking, but I’m not Christ. And, I’m telling you that you are a co-heir with Him and because of that we must believe in a higher definition of success.
Let me encourage you to believe that anything you may think of as a failure is not final. It is a step in the process of learning and growing.
We should always start in the spirit and then move to the physical or practical. Examine your own definition of success. Look at a past failure. Don’t be afraid. Look as if you were reviewing the situation of a dear friend. Think about how that failure impacted her life. Think about how it helped her grow. Think about how she is moving forward. Be honest. And above all, be compassionate.