It has always fascinated me that the three most popular New Year’s resolutions involve improving physical health. They are, in no particular order: lose weight, exercise more and quit smoking tobacco. Statistically, nearly 80% of all New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by February 1st. “Another failure”, we might say, “just one of many times I’ve failed.”
However, “failure”, in and of itself is not necessarily a disaster, but rather could be a valuable learning opportunity. Many years ago I enrolled in a computer programming course at a local community college. Computers were a relatively new invention and the career opportunities seemed unlimited. My college roommate, Larry, was a computer programmer and he seemed to enjoy his work. It seemed challenging, exciting and rewarding. Besides, I reasoned that I was at least as smart as Larry and if he could learn programming, then I could learn programming too!
After twelve short weeks of computer classes, I discovered that I was indeed as smart as Larry, but not in the ways of programming logic and linear thought patterns. I failed the class terribly and my career in computing was effectively over. After some reflection and soul searching, I realized that I had failed the class, but that I personally was not a failure. In those twelve weeks I learned something very valuable about myself. I learned where my gifts and talents were not. This probably spared me from a career of unnecessary struggle and unhappiness. Success usually feels good and if we are attentive it can teach us a little about ourselves. Failure feels terrible, but it also provides the opportunity to learn a lot. Failure says “Okay, so Plan A didn’t work out well, but this is not the end of the world. What might Plan B or Plan C look like?”
We are all going to experience failures. It’s hard to believe, but those failures are often a gift. Failure shows us what doesn’t work, so that we can begin to focus on what does.