by Chris Cloud
I’ve had many failures in my life. One of them was in business. I was partner in a healthcare related startup that launched right before the Great Recession in the U.S. We were trying to do something radical, and the market wasn’t ready. But the truth is, neither were we as company leaders. We did some things well, but we made a lot of mistakes because of our lack of experience. These circumstances eventually caused the young seedling company to go out of business.
Bottom line: we failed. I failed.
Here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned through that particular failure as I’ve reflected on it over the years.
I’m writing from a place of weakness, as I’ve made many mistakes in the way I have responded to failure – but I’ve also seen the fruit and growth that can come as a result. Before I share the 8 counterintuitive benefits of failure, here are 7 more harmful ways I have responded to failure.
Harmful Responses to Failure
1. Shame, self-flagellation.
2. Burrowing into isolation.
3. Overreacting in seemingly wise but ultimately harmful ways. Saying things like, “I’ll never partner with anyone again, all partnerships are a bad idea”. These types of broad sweeping conclusions can be self-defeating. Life is usually more nuanced than that.
4. Retreating to comfort zones. Saying things like, “Well I guess I wasn’t cut out for risks I’ll just take the safe path now.”
5. Living in the past – replaying the failure over and over to the point of obsession. This inevitably leads to overreactions, shame, bitterness, or unhealthy need to “prove yourself.”
6. Finger pointing, blame-shifting.
7. Over-concern with what others think of you. Reality is, most people think about us very little, and if they think poorly of us because of a failure then let God sort that out.
Failure is an Opportunity
It is counterintuitive, but failure can actually benefit us and those around us. Here are 8 opportunities that come with failure:
1. To grow in humility.
2. To receive grace – God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
3. To gain wisdom. We can learn as much or more through failure as through success.
4. To relate with others who have also failed.
5. To reevaluate our foundations, what is our life built on? No other foundation has any man laid than that which is Christ Jesus (I Cor. 3:11).
6. To exercise faith.
7. To magnify God and demonstrate His strength. When we are weak, He is strong. When we are little, He is big.
8. To find our identity in Christ and not in our outward success.
So You’ve Failed, Now What?
If you are experiencing failure, here are some healthy and practical ways I would recommend to help you move past it:
Take ownership. Blame shifting, finger-pointing, and excuse-making are counter-productive and will help you stay stuck. This might even be a good place to go and apologize or reconcile a relationship if need be.
Prayerfully pursue wisdom from above – lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)
Realize that failure is often the very vehicle that delivers grace into our lives.
Focus on being grateful, even for the failure itself, and certainly for the good that can come of it.
Process the failure with 1-2 wise mentors. I’d caution care here as seeking too many opinions can be overwhelming (and everyone has their own opinion). Rather, choose wise, patient, listeners who can prayerfully walk past the failure with you.
Write down what you learned. Putting ink to paper helps us cut through the fog and brings clarity. It also helps to codify the lessons so that we don’t easily forget.
Look for ways that you can turn the seeming “failure” into an opportunity. Some of the greatest opportunities in life come through what initially felt like or seemed like failure. If we burrow inward we’re likely to miss it.
Keep moving – momentum kills stagnation, and present success has a way of making past failure seem smaller.
“…Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged. I was set free.” – J.K. Rowling on personal failure
What about you? What has God taught you through failure in your life? Please reach out to me if you have a story about God’s grace reaching into your life through personal failure.
Resources for Further Reading and Study
- Keep a Resume of your Failures by Adam Grant, Wharton Professor (Article)
- Psychology of Human Misjudgment by Charlie Munger (Talk and transcript)
Chris Cloud is an entrepreneur who has been living and working with his wife in Nepal over the past 3 years. He is passionate about helping companies and individuals identify their perceived growth ceiling, and break past that ceiling. He is partner at a firm in the U.S., ALIGN. ALIGN helps leadership teams clarify their “true north” and gain traction by aligning every aspect of the organization to that vision. He holds a degree in business administration, but counts his 12+ years of starting or serving in a series of fast-growing startups as his real entrepreneurial education!
On a good day, you’ll find Chris running up a mountain or snowboarding down one. You can connect with him here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ccloud/