What does it mean to fail well?
When Dave and I were in the initial stages of recovery from his porn addiction, we received wise words:
- This does not have to be fatal.
- Fail well.
At that point, failure was all we could see. We felt it, tasted it, and breathed it daily. Facing job, marriage, family, and reputation loss, life felt destroyed by the earthquake of his porn addiction revelation. Reeling from the aftershocks, we couldn’t think straight. “This does not have to be fatal” brought hope to our relationship. But “Fail well” didn’t make sense.
How does fail well differ from failure?
Up until then, I’d viewed failure as . . . well . . . failure. The word, by definition, means you screwed up, failed, made a mess of things. That pretty much summed up life for Dave and me. And regularly felt tossed about in a continuous cycle of shame, confusion, fear, anger, and sadness. A cycle we started calling “The Spin Cycle.” The spin cycle thoughts included
I was a failure. (identity statement)
I couldn’t please my husband enough to keep him from looking at porn. (the false idea of control statement).
My husband couldn’t love me and look at porn. (false statement related to porn addiction)
My marriage was over. (a defeatist attitude)
God couldn’t get us out of this mess. (non-Biblical view of God)
Dan Miller says there’s no such thing as failure.
There are only two options: learning and success. Do you see the mindset shift in this statement? Dan doesn’t view failure as negative.
Thomas Edison applied this same mindset. His first life principle exemplifies this:
Never get discouraged if you fail. Learn from it. Keep trying.
When an assistant expressed sympathy over the many failed attempts at creating a new type of storage battery, Edison purportedly responded with his now-famous quote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison went on to explain that he didn’t allow himself to become discouraged under any circumstances. “We sometimes learn a lot from our failures if we have put into the effort the best thought and work we are capable of.”
In my life, fear and failure are closely linked.
The Bible mentions fear over 300 times, which means fear must be a common human malady. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Often when I feel fear wrapping around me, I hear this verse. If God, the Creator of the Universe, is continually with me (His promise), then why do I choose to fear? Yet, I do this instinctively.
What would life look like if we kicked fear to the side and adopted Edison’s curiosity?
Resist the fear of failure.
Be honest. How many times a day do you shrink from something because you fear failure? Look at your behavior over the last 24 hours? Where did you procrastinate? What conversation did you avoid? Who did you avoid and why?
All these can be signs you fear failure. Edison chose to view each failed attempt as a learning experience. But notice he attempted. He discovered what didn’t work. And that understanding sparked additional creative juices to look at the experiment from a different angle. Isn’t this the concept behind every scientific discovery? You may not be going for a scientific breakthrough, but what about one in your marriage? What are you avoiding that could be the “lightbulb” moment for you and your husband? Or for your personal approach to your relationship. You can only control yourself.
Create new possibilities.
In Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle Is the Way, he says, “Failure shows us the way—by showing us what isn’t the way.” When I work with a client, we discuss how her past choices and behavior brought her to this point.
So often, out of fear, we want to go back to normal, to what we know and feel comfortable doing or being. True healing involves looking at new possibilities. We must take what works from past behaviors and refine that to create exciting new possibilities in our future. Your past describes you, but it doesn’t define you or your future. One exercise I do with coaching clients involves describing their preferred future. Every time I do this exercise, I sense new anticipation—exciting possibilities. I see her dreaming again and believing this desired future is possible.
Enhance your vision.
Fear limits our sight and clouds our thinking, hopes, and dreams. Betrayal wounds you to the core. It makes it difficult to see a better tomorrow. Then fear slithers in to push your emotions down the rabbit hole to self-destruction. However, when we courageously open up to another person, like a coach, about these fears, the clouds lift. Suddenly, we see new opportunities. Our horizon expands. We believe there is hope, which opens our vision.
When we heard, “this doesn’t have to be fatal,” I felt hope come alive. I began to see beyond the darkness I’d been in since Dave revealed the addiction. After hearing some ways to start recovery, I saw hidden options, which allowed my vision to be less myopic. Dave and I discovered failing well meant living authentically. We decided to change our mindset, which influenced our thoughts and impacted our actions.
This is how you fail well.
Success comes in the minute decisions you make daily. It is:
- the choice to turn from destructive behavior toward authentic living.
- Telling the truth in love instead of hiding and hoping to keep the peace.
Honest conversations occur with the hope of restoring the relationship. Authentic people love you enough to risk the relationship to help you see your blind spots. If you want to fail well, you’ll discover the healing in the wound.
Jesus tells us to follow Him.
In John 14, he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” Jesus explains in this passage that He is with us, is preparing the way for us to live eternally with the Father and Him, and will come back for us. In the meantime, we have the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to follow Jesus. We aren’t told to live perfectly but to follow well. That’s how we succeed in life. We take our failures, bring them to Jesus, ask for and receive forgiveness, learn why that didn’t work, and then follow His lead. He promises to direct our steps.
What steps can you take to see beyond the failure? How can you:
- Take one step toward fear instead of away from it.
- Find a way to be positive about your future?
- Identify what’s limiting your vision of hope.
Jot yourself a note. Or schedule a reminder on your phone. However it works best, remind yourself:
Resist the fear of failure.
Look for exciting possibilities.
Enhance your vision.
Practice failing well.