Learning to lead means learning to fail well.

I sat weeping on the swing, watching the children play in the park and replayed the scenes of my failure over and over in my head.

I contemplated all the ways that I could bring about my own demise. I was certain that the mistakes I had made were more than anyone would be willing to accept or understand. I was certain that if anyone knew me like I know me, they would run screaming and couldn’t possibly accept me.

Before coming to this park, I had reflected on the 1992 Olympics. The world watched as the lead runner fell on turn four and lie crying on the track as the entire field of competitors crossed the finish line without him. I had left a note for my roommate with a simple question. “How many times can a runner fall down before the race is simply over and there is no point to getting up again?”

Self-hatred screamed loudly. Self-pity had won out. The darkness that enveloped my mind and heart was overwhelming me. Hope was fading faster than the evening sun.

Without much thought, I opened to a random page in the book I was reading and looked bleary eyed at the text. I read it several times to make sure that I understood what I was reading. I flipped back and forth to see if this page really belonged here.

How could it be that in the darkest moment of my life, this random page could be the spark of hope burning like the noonday sun before my eyes?

But there it was, a reminder of the same race that had caused me to ask the question of my roommate. In my fury of failure I had related myself to only half of the story. Here on the page was the other half. It was not about that race. In fact, this story was written nearly fifty years before that fateful Olympic race. But clearly articulated in black and white it spoke of a father’s dedication and persistent love. A father who looks at his children when they have fallen and rather than scolding the fall, rejoices that they attempted to walk in the first place.

Failure in life is a given.
There is no human exempt from errors, mistakes, and failure. If we wish to experience adventure, we will face failure. If we take risks, large or small we will face failure. The question is not if, but when. The better questions is “How will we handle failure when it comes?”

Please remember these three things in light of failure.

Failure is one of the greatest teachers in the world.
Learn from it. Let your moments of failure be signs on your road of where not to go again, how not to try to so something, lesson plans for future success.

You are not alone in your failure.
Look around, others have made this same mistake or a very similar one. Make note of their mistakes as well as your own, not for comparisons sake but to escape the track of future failure. Avoiding mistakes by recognizing warning signs will be priceless in the future. Don’t let failure isolate you. Isolation will lead to desperation and possible depression. Get around people who have faced the same mistake and conquered it.

Failure is not fatal.
With a few extreme exceptions, most of us live through our mistakes. Perhaps with a bruised ego, skinned knee, damaged reputation or relationship but ultimately alive. Let’s keep it that way. The Source of forgiveness is an infinitely deep well. You will not exhaust it. You will have consequences of failure, but you will also have unlimited second chances.

Take hope. When you fail, rise again!


BTW The book was Screwtape Letters  by C. S. Lewis.

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