What to Do When You Fail

Failure is inevitable. Here’s how you can overcome it.

One day morning will dawn, your eyes will open and you will awaken with the literal reality that the dream you had for yourself is over—and it’s time to move on.

I can think to specific days in 2000, 2003, 2008 and most recently in summer 2011 when I rolled out of bed with the knowledge that I’d just crossed a line. The dreams I knew were gone. And I had to find new dreams.

In each case, those mornings felt like I’d just fallen from a place of positional power, security and recognition. Even in going from one role to another—even if that new role was “better” than the one I’d left—it still felt like a fall.

Much of who you are and how you think of yourself on a day-to-day basis is wrapped up in what you do, who you work with and the people you do stuff with. When that’s gone—whether by choice or not—you experience this unmooring free-fall feeling.

While other leaders have experienced ugly falls from grace, I have never experienced that. Instead, in times where the things I knew are suddenly gone because I’ve moved on to something else, I’ve experienced something I can only describe as a fall to grace.

The free-fall feeling of change always lands in the loving arms of a God who has nurtured and cared for me from the beginning. And those strong palms support my back as I try to get my bearings. God’s grace supports me, lifts me up and the warmth of that palm reminds me I’ll be fine.

To know hope, you must know despair

Despair is not the enemy of hope. Frustration and anxiety may not be your friends, but they are repeatedly wrestled on your way to hope. Over the years, plenty of people have called me overly hopeful—almost stupidly hopeful. From my eyes I only know summits of hope because I have been in great depths of despair. In the darkness of that valley I’ve cried out to God: “What am I doing here! I can’t do this anymore. I hate every last step of this!” The echoes of those moments haunt me.

But when you’ve been there—when you’ve screamed in that valley and heard those cries echoed back empty—then you discover any step above that is a step toward hope.

But knowing hope, truly living a hope-filled life, is a reflex against despair.

To know faith, you must know doubt

It perplexes me that some have made doubt the enemy of faith. I would argue that you can’t know what faith is until you know what doubt is. Both are invisible. Both are real. And both are internal, silent motivators of our daily actions.

In putting both feet on either side of the faith/doubt teeter totter, I desire balance while one always wins over the other. I’m either standing on faith or standing on doubt.

Falling into the arms of grace isn’t an action of doubt or faith. But the resolve that comes through pushing against doubt’s gravity to take action is a step of faith. That is what reassures me that grace truly will catch me.

To know grace, you must know failure

One of my mentors, at each of these moments over the past decade, has asked me, “What are the things you are running away from by doing this and what are the things you are running to?” Even in roles where everyone has labeled me a success, I know there were failures. I know there were expectations unmet. I know I expressed attitudes I shouldn’t have. There were many times when I worked on what I wanted to work on to the neglect of what others thought I should be working on.

Even on the road to success, there are many failures you have to deal with. Being honest about that with myself and with others helps me discover what grace really means in my life.

Because of my failures, I don’t deserve anything good. But good keeps coming my way. That’s not a reflection of my character or timing or anything else. But it is a reflection of the character of God.

We will all encounter times where we experience free fall. My encouragement? Fall into the receiving hands of grace.

A lifelong youth worker, Adam McLane is a Partner at The YouthCartel and Principal at McLane Creative. He is a purveyor, connoisseur,trader and collector of ideas. Kristen and Adam have been married 14 years and live in the SanDiego neighborhood of Rolando with their rowdy children, Megan, Pauland Jackson.

When have you failed on the path to your dreams? How did you move on?

Top Comments

85,157

Anonymous commented…

After my high school graduation in 2008 you'd would think that I'm on the road to success, but that was a time when I had my most failures. I didn't get accepted into any of the three colleges I applied to. I failed the ASVAP test for the Air Force more than three times, which made me have to wait a year to take it again. And I couldn't go to photography school because I didn't have a car to commute. My life felt like it was at a stand still. I woke up in the morning, my sister going to college, my parents went to work, and I just sat at home all day wondering where my life was going.

Then I found a college with dorms five hours away from my home and got accepted. After a year there I transferred to one of the first colleges I applied to and been at UTC for the past two years. That experience matured me and made me appreciate every opportunity I get much more because I know now what it feels like to be rejected.

11 Comments

85,157

rpc commented…

I can't help but think of the effects of failure on Abraham Lincoln. Even in his "success" becoming the presidential candidate for his party; he was the first choice of only a few, but the second choice of almost all the others! Failure pushes us to accomplish what would otherwise remain dormant.

Great article! I'm speaking on Dream Again: After Failure this coming weekend.

Jeff Goins

228

Jeff Goins commented…

best advice i ever heard was this: GRIEVE. when we fail, we need to spend some time mourning what was lost before we move on.

85,157

Anonymous commented…

After my high school graduation in 2008 you'd would think that I'm on the road to success, but that was a time when I had my most failures. I didn't get accepted into any of the three colleges I applied to. I failed the ASVAP test for the Air Force more than three times, which made me have to wait a year to take it again. And I couldn't go to photography school because I didn't have a car to commute. My life felt like it was at a stand still. I woke up in the morning, my sister going to college, my parents went to work, and I just sat at home all day wondering where my life was going.

Then I found a college with dorms five hours away from my home and got accepted. After a year there I transferred to one of the first colleges I applied to and been at UTC for the past two years. That experience matured me and made me appreciate every opportunity I get much more because I know now what it feels like to be rejected.

85,157

Adam McLane commented…

I love that story, Carlito. Failure isn't the enemy of success... it's the pathway!

Daniel Barcelo

2

Daniel Barcelo commented…

I think this is anarticlethat I will bookmark and keep on hand for reference failure is inevitable but knowing how to deal with it and move on is invaluable both is personal and professional life.

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