There’s no way around it: Failure stinks.
No one likes to fail or sets out to fail. The fear of it is constantly whispering in our ears, begging us to settle for easy, safe and comfortable.
But here’s the thing: Failing is part of living, and we’ll never have impactful lives if we let the fear of failing keep us frozen where we stand.
The only way to avoid failure is to go all Cast Away and maroon yourself on an island, build a shelter out of coconuts and tree branches, find a volleyball to make friends with and call it a life. And even Tom Hanks got tired of that and took his chances at sea, where failing would have meant a watery grave.
If we’re going to dream big, pray hard and then take steps of faith, we have to be willing to fail. The willingness to fail is a prerequisite to experiencing the life God desires for each and every one of us.
We will fail. We will fall flat on our faces from time to time. But how we respond to failure will either propel us forward or hold us back. The key is to fail well.
Here are some ways I’m learning how to do that:
1. Put It All Out There
When you grow up playing sports, chances are you are going to become a naturally competitive person—and that will spill over in other areas of your life outside the playing field.
All of a sudden, you’re adopting former NFL coach Herm Edwards’ philosophy of “Hello?! You play to win the game!” and losing a game of Trivial Pursuit is simply not an option (Or maybe that’s just me … It is? Okay, moving on).
Anyways, if you play a sport, you will lose at some point. You won’t have an undefeated season every year (Sorry, Kentucky college basketball fans). You’ll strike out every now and then. You’ll miss a few jump shots. That’s part of playing the game and living life.
But win or lose, you can control how you prepare, the amount of effort you put in during the game, and the way you carry yourself afterwards. In Colossians 3:23, the Apostle Paul said that “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as if you were working for the Lord.”
If I’m going to strike out, I want to go down swinging—not with the bat sitting on shoulder as if it was stuck there with crazy glue.
When—not if—I fail and fall flat on my face, I want to look back and see that I gave it everything I had until the final whistle. If I didn’t quit, didn’t shy away from the challenge, didn’t put in a half-effort, I could walk away with some kind of peace.
Even then, failure will sting—but you can walk away from it without any regrets.
2. Don’t Let Failure Make You Bitter
It’s easy to be a good sport after getting the big win, the promotion with the killer pay raise or when life is going great. After failure? Not so much. Emotions are running high—and we’ve all seen plenty of post-game handshakes turn into shoves and punches on national television.
It’s much tougher after a heart-crushing defeat to not become overcome by anger, jealousy and despair. It’s harder to offer grace to people who beat us down. It’s difficult to praise God in the midst of what feels like an unanswered prayer. It seems almost impossible to find joy after falling flat on our faces.
Those emotions are real. They’re valid. We can’t sweep them under the bed like a pair of dirty socks and pretend they’re not there. Be real with God and yourself. If it hurts, let Him know it hurts. If it makes you angry, tell Him you’re angry. But at the same time, we can’t hold onto them for too long.
Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Don’t sin by letting anger control you … Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” We have to fight to let anger and bitterness go (still working on this in my own life). We have to—or it will end up consuming us. It’s our choice.
In the aftermath of failure, don’t do anything or say something that you’re going to regret later. Be gracious. Stay thankful. Hold your head high and keep moving forward. Don’t let bitterness take hold of your heart—it’s not worth it.
3. Don’t Let Failure Become Final
Some failures feel like the end of everything. Some mistakes feel like they’re too big to be forgiven. But they’re not—they only seem that way when we’re stuck in the middle of it.
Proverbs 24:16 says, “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up.” Even the “righteous” mess things up every now and then, yet there is still grace! There is always grace. There are still chances to get up and start over everyday.
Don’t let failing and falling keep you down. Don’t let it have the last word. Don’t let it define you. We fail, but that doesn’t make us failures—that makes us dreamers and doers.
Your failure today could be the foundation for the breakthrough tomorrow. But that’ll never happen if you don’t get back on your feet.
4. Learn and Grow from Failure
We might dread failing more than walking into an advanced calculus class in high school, but failure can be the greatest classroom we ever learn in. It’s in that classroom where God usually wants to grab us by the shoulders and teach us something. Usually because it’s at that point when we’re ready to actually listen.
Failure can teach us lessons in humility, the value of endurance and recalibrate our lives in ways that nothing else can. Failure taught me to truly trust in God and not in my own understanding. Failure taught me that God’s plans for my life were greater than anything I could have ever scripted. It was failure that taught me to place my hope in Jesus and not in anything else.
Maybe I knew some of these things in my head before failure, but when failure smacks you on the head like a rogue golf ball, it becomes more real than the bruise caused by said golf ball.
It was (and is) those failures that equipped me to handle everything that comes with successes both small and great. We can’t hide from failure, but we can learn to fail well—and failing well can make all the difference.
This post was originally published at JoelDelgado.com.
Joel Delgado is a staff writer at Florida International University in Miami, FL and blogs about faith, life and more at JoelDelgado.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JoelMDelgado.