The Courier

Howard RittenhouseI really don’t like to fail. Who does? I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist, leavened with a strong lazy streak, so while I hated to fail and hated to have something that wasn’t just exactly right, I would usually find the fastest, most expedient way to achieve success and satisfy my perfectionism at the same time. It’s usually worked out.

There have been times it didn’t. I once submitted a paper in university that got me a ‘D’ – the only one I’d ever had in post-secondary education. I was gobsmacked (as the English say) – it just wasn’t possible! So, I went home, curled up in a ball, and whined at my wife. The next day, though, I spoke to the professor and we came to an ‘arrangement:’ I would write an addendum to the paper and resubmit it. This I did, and got a ‘B.’ It was only later that I discovered that my original paper had been the usual 10-12 pages long, but instead of double-spaced, I’d mistakenly written it single-spaced … as I had the eight-page addendum! So I’d written a 20 page paper (single-spaced) equivalent to a 40 page paper (double-spaced).

What’s the point of this boring story, you wonder? (Yes, what is the point? I know I had one….) Oh, right! Failure! We avoid it like CrossFit, loathe it like certain IMPs (Individual Meal Packets), fear it like the Section Warrant Officer on a tear. However, in fact, failure builds character. It builds our capacity to endure, to stand up under adversity, to get up and do it again.

Most people we would describe as successful have failed, and often failed spectacularly. Thomas Edison (inventor of the incandescent bulb – after hundreds of attempts) said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” And there are Biblical examples too (have to have the Bible in here somewhere!): Moses, Abraham, Samson, Jonah, Peter, Paul. And John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister of Canada in the 50s, failed early and failed often. Six times he presented himself as a candidate in Saskatchewan before finally winning a federal seat 15 years later. Then he spent another 16 years in opposition and twice lost the race for party leadership. His biographer, Peter C. Newman wrote, “No Canadian politician ever rose so steadily through a succession of personal humiliations.”

The sad thing is that our society has become so enamoured of success and those who succeed that any hint of failure or disappointment in our lives is met with inconsolable grief, shock and paralyzing fear. We seem to think that successful people have never failed, that the sting of defeat, the humiliation of being picked last (hands up all who’ve experienced that – what? Just me?!), the burning shame of being perceived to be a loser has never shrouded their minds or hearts. So why should it ours? Don’t be so frightened of failure that you never try. Don’t be paralyzed by the inevitable (and there are) disappointments of life. No one’s life ever goes according to plan! My wife never intended to marry me, and look at me now! (Wait – that might not have come out right.) Jesus once said, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33). And He was right! Don’t allow that trouble to define you.

This is the secret to success: no one truly succeeds who never attempts, and no one who ever attempts is certain of success. If you try, you may fail, but if you don’t try, you will never succeed.

Winston Churchill, one of England’s greatest Prime Ministers, growled, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”


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