Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
— Winston Churchill

This quote makes me extremely uncomfortable, because I capital H-A-T-E failure.

As most of you know, I’m a recovering perfectionist, and perfection doesn’t allow for failure (nor does it allow for joy, grace, or authenticity).

Failure is anathema to me for several reasons:

  1. It’s vulnerable.
  2. It shows weakness.
  3. It’s shameful.
  4. It’s admitting you can’t do something, even though you put everything on the line. Essentially, “Your best just isn’t good enough” (which taps into #1).
  5. It’s saying “I’m not worthy without my achievements” (whether this be winning the gold medal or completing my to-do list for the day).

Additionally, I have no schema for failure = success, let alone that consistent failure = success.  For me failure = failure. Thus, the notion that failure can = success is fairly new to me.

I recently had lunch with one of my mentors in which I was sharing my fears about not hacking it in a Ph.D. program and how terrified I was of potentially having to quit midway.

She was taken aback by my comment, and then simply asked, “Have you given yourself permission to fail?”

Internally, I started crying. Her question struck a nerve. It challenged the five distortions above.

She sensed my discomfort and sat with me in it.

I finally said, “No, I’ve never given myself permission to fail, whether preemptively or not.”

She graciously exhorted me, “Perhaps you need to.”

The profundity of her statement is still sinking in.

In response to her exhortation, my gut reaction was, “Yeah, but doing that is equivalent to admitting defeat before you even start. And that’s totally lame.” However, my more reflective reaction was, “Yes, I want to grant myself permission to fail. I want to experience the freedom that comes with this.”

What I’ve snail-paced come to realize over the past several months, and what has been reconfirmed over the last 72 hours, is that the paradox of failure is this: you need it to move forward. According to Gonzalez-Mena (2013), “One of the best feedback devices we have is failure” (p. 252). * This quote also makes me extremely uncomfortable.

So, in light of my recent conversation, I’m accepting my mentor’s challenge. I’m giving myself permission to totally bomb, not just in the academic sphere, but in any relational, professional, athletic, or hobbyistic (I just made this word up) endeavors.

The reality is, I’m not very well acquainted with failure, namely because I only do things I know I’ll be successful at, and shy away from things that will overly challenge me, or will result in failure.

This is a truncated way of living. One I’m no longer interested in.

While I’m on a mission to fail, more than anything, I’m on a quest to be ok with it, and to understand failure as a necessary feedback tool. I’m on a journey to redefine failure and success, in the hopes of developing a new equation in with failure can = success.

Without over-spiritualizing this, in rehashing the conversation with my mentor, I couldn’t help but think of the cross.

From a worldly, 1st century Roman perspective, the cross was an epic failure. Abandoned and alone, Jesus ended his short-lived mission as a crucified revolutionary. He too, was an epic failure.

Yet, in an ironic twist, the cross was God’s greatest success; it was his ultimate victory. On it, God defeated death, exposed and stripped evil of its power, conquered vengeance with love, and offered new life. Jesus’ death was never the end game. It was the victorious beginning of something the world had yet to witness.

Perhaps this is where my reformatting begins.

*Gonzalez-Mena, J. (2013).  Child, family, and Community 6th Edition.  Boston, MA:  Pearson