How To Learn To Fail

If it’s necessary to learn to fail so we can really live, then just how do we learn to fail well?

  1. Try hard things. This part’s actually kind of a no brainer. If you’re not failing, you’re probably not attempting anything difficult. It’s easy to succeed every time when you limit yourself to whatever’s easy. I can beat my 8 year old at chess EVERY TIME… but it’s not very gratifying and I don’t learn anything from the experience. Maybe you’re ok with a life like that, but I doubt it. (You probably wouldn’t read these posts very often if you were!)
  2. Try new things. You may be doing some hard things, but they’re all inside the realm of what you already know. Try to accomplish something new and you’ll probably fail a few times along the way. Congratulations. You just gave yourself an opportunity to learn.
  3. Don’t stay afraid. Failure scares us. Sometimes it scares us so much that we don’t take any action when we’re unsure of the outcome. We know it might not work out, so we cower in familiar shadows and pretend we’re not curious about what’s out there beyond our fear. What if you let your curiosity and faith overwhelm your fear? You’re not a cat, let your curiosity run around once in a while. Being afraid is normal. Just don’t stay that way.
  4. Forget who’s watching. We sometimes think failing diminishes who we are or something, and we don’t want to be diminished so we don’t risk anything that might end in failure. But does failing really make you less? Do you think less of Thomas Edison because he failed to create a usable lightbulb so many times? Seriously, has anyone failed to make a good light bulb more than Edison? But his failures fade in comparison to his advancements. So, maybe some people thought he was crazy to keep banging his head on the same filamental wall so many times. (Yes I know filamental is not a word, but it would be a cool one if it was!) Who cares what they think? Who are they anyway? (Beside the ones watching life from the sidelines. Don’t join them.) Truth be told… most people aren’t paying attention anyway and won’t notice your failure at all. So go ahead and pretend no one’s watching. Chances are, they aren’t.
  5. Learn from other people’s failures, too. Good news! You don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself. Just observe the world around you and you’re sure to notice somebody else failing, too. What can you learn from their mistakes?

Now that we know how to learn to fail, the next trick is to figure out how to actually learn from our failures…

Learning to Fail So We Can Learn to Live

When my older son learned to walk, he pretty much taught himself when we weren’t looking. He’d make his way around furniture, but we could never get him to let go. If we tried the old “hold my hand until I pull it away” trick, he’d just sit down as soon as we let go. But every once in a while, we’d walk in to a room and find him standing in the middle, not holding on to anything. (Which always resulted in him sitting back down as soon as he realized someone could see him.) When he learned to ride a bike, he’d step off and let his bike fall every time he started to tip over. As soon as he sensed that he was going to crash, he’d bail out so we couldn’t see him fall.

This weekend, he had a chance to learn something new that I knew was going to necessitate a lot of falling. He got to snowboard for the first time. It didn’t go well. I tried to brace him for the falling. I knew what was coming. I remember learning to snowboard a few years ago. I don’t like people to see me fall either, so it was as embarrassing as it was painful. Despite my warnings that this wasn’t going to be easy, he was caught off-guard at just how tricky it is to slide down a mountain of ice with your feet strapped down to a waxed slab of fiberglass. (Who thinks of this stuff, anyway!?) After about an hour and a half of getting more and more frustrated, we took a break for lunch. He was tired of falling and I was tired of picking him up and trying to convince him that he’d get it.

During lunch, I realized I needed to make a choice: enjoy the rest of the day on the slopes with my group of students or fight with my son until he got the hang of snowboarding. (Sometimes being a youth minister and dad at the same time is really tricky.) Feeling defeated, I told him he could switch to skis (which he naturally took to and enjoyed immediately). In the long run, snowboarding isn’t a life skill I’m willing to fight about. What I am willing to fight about, however, is failure.

We hate it.

We avoid it at almost any cost.

Truth be told, we fear it.

But we can also learn from failing more than we learn from proficiency. If I’m naturally good at something, it’s easy to slip into coasting without even realizing it. But learning something new can be a struggle that involves the risk of failing. We have to take the risk. The growth we need requires the faith to take the risk. The caterpillar has to struggle to get out of the cocoon in order to become the butterfly he always could be. My son needs to learn how to grow through the struggle and the falling and the failing. So does his dad. Which is what makes me so grateful that I never have to fall alone.

Neither do you, so keep trying. Keep getting up and falling again toward the dreams God’s planted in you. Keep stretching yourself and try stepping into the unfamiliar more often. It’s certainly a risk. But living a safe and sedentary life in the shallow waters of familiarity carries it’s own risks. Don’t settle for what’s easy. Learn to fail.

But how? Good question for another post…

Recalibrate Your Life

Do you ever feel like you just need to recalibrate? Like you’re going about your life and something is just a little off?

It’s easy to get so sidetracked by the business of living life as it is that we lose our bearing on life as He intended. Think back 10 years. Is the life you’re living today what you envisioned then? Maybe you need to recalibrate to get back on track. Sometimes, we encounter sudden corrections and unforeseeable detours that jar us from the path we were previously on.

“Surprise, we’re pregnant!”

“I’m sorry, the chemo doesn’t seem to be working as well as we’d hoped…”

“We’re moving you up in the company.”

“We’re moving.”

Big events like these can knock us off track, but they also can help us to shake off everything that’s not central to our identity and propel us forward with new resolve toward who we will be. But it doesn’t have to take a life altering event like a 3 day stint in the belly of a whale or the loss of a job to help us do that. We can consistently recalibrate and make sure we are keeping our lives oriented around the mission and glory of God in our lives. We can step out of our routines and examine them. What has crept in that doesn’t need to be a regular part of our day? What has distracted us from what we were hoping for (and stolen our hope in the process)?

Here are a few ways to recalibrate:

1. Read Scripture and develop an ongoing conversation with God. This doesn’t have to be a knee aching hour in a prayer closet (though it could be), but we desperately need to be going about our lives in conversation with the Author of Life. There’s no quicker way to become disoriented than to neglect (or hide from) this conversation. What is God hearing from you? What does He have to say today?

2. Quit something(s). There seems to be a popular reductionism going on where minimizing is all the rage. I’m not a very trendy guy, but this is a bandwagon with some merit. Our lives are too full of things that don’t matter. Our lives are cluttered with school activities, social functions, sports leagues, “must see tv…” These can be good, wholesome things, but seriously, if there’s something you just can’t miss, it’s probably screwing up your life more than you know. Let it go.

3. Try something new. Take a class or join a new group of some kind. Meet some new people who aren’t all engrossed in the same patterns you’re already in. Don’t just jam your schedule full of new stuff, and don’t plan on doing all of these things indefinitely (see # 2 above – you don’t want to just clutter things up again), but once you’ve made some room to breathe, give some of that time to a new, worthy endeavor. Maybe you’ll try some stuff that just doesn’t work. That’s ok. Move on to something else. Maybe you’ll find some great reminders of the hope filled life we are called to live.

4. Go outside. This one really sucks right now where I live. It’s been colder than a meat locker for weeks here and we’re buried in snow that doesn’t seem to be leaving soon. But we need to escape the cocoons (or catacombs) of our cubicles and office spaces from time to time and breathe air that’s not stale and still. We need to feel dirt move when we take a step once in a while (or even hear the snow crunch!). We need to see wildlife run around and do their thing, oblivious to our presence. Let Creation remind you that you’re not just scurrying around like that ~ God is with you. He’s crafted you for something. What is it?

Where could you go if you slowed down and let God lead?
Where could you go if you slowed down and let God recalibrate your headings?