"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The [Lost] Art of Failing Well

By Micky Wolf

People are likely not much different when it comes to making mistakes or failing—we would rather not, thank you. Subsequently, when I recently encountered the phrase do you think you can take failure, I found myself revisiting the idea of what it means to fail.
Most of us are familiar with the concept (repeated on numerous occasions by parents or mentors and beginning at an early age) of the importance of learning from our mistakes. But what does that really mean, especially in light of the implication there could be something inherently good about failing?
  • Mistake—to blunder in the choice of; to misunderstand the meaning or intention of; to make a wrong judgment of the character or ability of another. (Miriam Webster Dictionary)
  •  Failure—omission in performing a duty or expected action; a state of inability to perform a normal function; a fracturing or giving way under stress. (Miriam Webster Dictionary)
While it might be said that making a mistake leads to failure, both share the following: lacking insight or awareness and mostly in ignorance, our action or inaction may lead to unintended results which, from our perspective, could be considered less than favorable. And yet, what if God has an entirely different perspective on the matter?
First lesson—redefining mistake and failure
Our tendency is to lump our mistakes and failures to together in the context of what we do or do not do, and whether it is right or wrong. Either way we are defining the situation in the context of morality. Without a doubt, it is important to take responsibility for actions that are hurtful toward others or self. On the other hand and upon closer examination, what we might call failure has a lot more to do with blundering, misunderstanding, making a quick judgment, or simply being forgetful, than anything else. The good news is each of these predicaments, so to speak, often provides a wealth of opportunity for God to help us learn healthier and more loving ways of interacting with others.
If you believe you have made a mistake or failed, it is important to be quick to take responsibility for a blunder, misunderstanding or judgment. Also, do not overlook what God might desire to show you through the experience. When we take time to ponder what happened, we open ourselves to hearing the voice of the Spirit, to discovering authentic Truth. If you need to make amends, do so. If not, move on, considering what you called a mistake or failure as the opening of another door through which God can enter to shape and transform your heart.
Second lesson—incorporating healthy fear
One explanation for our inability to fail well is we make the choice to stop. Stop. Our thoughts are stuck. Our steps are stuck. Our whole being becomes enveloped in a mist of misgivings. Bottom line? We think that by making the choice to stay put, we can mostly avoid failing in any manner or form.
When we believe that refusing to move is an effective way to avoid failure, we are usually giving rule and reign to unhealthy fear. This powerful emotion is allowed a place of prominence and power on the basis of our recollections of past experiences which typically involved physical pain, emotional embarrassment, or public humiliation of some sort. Furthermore, if we were not parented or mentored through the fallout of the event with kindness or compassion, we may literally shut down when it comes to taking any future action, no matter how small the risk.
Healthy fear has its place to alert us to impeding danger, either in our environment or through the actions of other people. Other than that, if we ever hope to live freely and spontaneously, especially with regard to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, it is imperative we learn to distinguish fight-or-flight-fear from that which serves more as walls we have erected for self-protection. Even our willingness to consider what might be at the root of our fear is a positive step in overcoming the numbing and dulling effects of trying to play it safe all the time.
Third lesson—savoring and enjoying failing
The idea of embracing mistakes and failings—and finding God at work in them, no less—may seem a bit unnerving or ludicrous. And to savor and enjoy the process? Yet, if for no other reason,  we need to rediscover the lost art of failing well as one of the best ways we can discover who we really are—or are not—as unique individuals created in the image and likeness of God.
For every risk we take, for every idea or action we move on, the more we will begin to understand the subtleties of our being: our strengths, our weaknesses, our desires, our gifts, our talents, our hopes, and our dreams. This will not ever be a neat and exacting process. If we choose to persist in trying to play it safe, we eventually realize we have done little more than erect barriers and distractions to experiencing the joy God desires and hopes for each one of us.
So, do you think you can take failure? Hopefully, the answer is yes. One thing for sure—learning to fail well is a clear indication of being fully alive, open, and responsive to each God-breathed moment of life. In that light, fellow pilgrim, what could better be described as success by any definition?
How would I describe failing? How does it feel to fail?
Do I live with healthy fear? Unhealthy fear?
Have I given up on taking risks? Why?

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