Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fail Well

You can learn a lot about a person by how they respond to failure.  It tells you about their character.

Perhaps the most common response to failure is to blame others.  Perhaps you think you failed because your teammates were incompetent.  Perhaps you think you failed because the deck is stacked against you.  Maybe you are too poor.  Maybe you are an ethnic minority and others look down on you for being different.  Perhaps it is social injustice that has held you back.  Perhaps “the man” is keeping you down.  It is a common knee-jerk reaction to blame others for our lack of success.

I once knew a guy who would speak very highly of his girlfriends until they broke up with him.  At that point he began to call them crazy women who should be in therapy.  After several such break-ups, I realized that the so-called crazy women he dated were not the problem.

It is tempting to blame others for our failure.  If the failure is our fault, it means that we are flawed in some way.  Few of us would claim to be perfect, but we don’t like it when our flaws are on display.  Thus, we quickly look for someone else to take the blame for us.  In doing so, we give up our responsibility and become the victims.

The problem with taking the victim route is that, though it is a road paved in the lilies of sympathy, the destination is slavery.

When you blame others for your failure, you are making them responsible for your success.  Do this often enough and you end up making your success completely dependent on them.  If you are completely dependent on others, they have complete mastery over you.

Of course, there are legitimate times when someone else is the cause of our failure.  But if you consistently look to others to make an excuse for your inability to succeed, you are likely on the road of the victim.  You are willingly becoming the prisoner of the one you blame.

The other response is to look at ourselves first when we fail.  Rather than blaming society for our problems, we take responsibility for our actions.  Rather than blaming our teammates or coworkers for their mistakes, we look at our mistakes.  We try to find out how we can be better.

In Jim Collins’ book Good To Great he writes about several companies that made the jump from being good companies to being great companies.  In every case the CEO’s of the companies were men or women who would look at themselves first when things went poorly and looked at their team first when things went well.

This is a painful thing to do.  When we look at our flaws we are reminded of our imperfections.  Yet we gain nothing in running from our mistakes.  Making corrections, making improvements, and making amends are practices that make us better.  Unlike the road of the victim, it is a road paved with discomfort, even pain, but the end result is victory.

Of course, there are times when failure is not our fault, and when that happens, the true cause of failure needs to be addressed.  But if you find yourself consistently looking first at how you can be better, and second at how others can be better, you will find that you are on the road to success.

As a man who has spent over a decade in professional ministry, I have made many mistakes.  I have also had many successes.  In almost every case my successes came as a result of a lesson learned from a previous failure.

It is easy to blame projects that fall apart on others.  It is tempting to blame dwindling attendance at our church on a complaisant congregation.  Blame is a balm to our ego.  It is a steroid that makes us look strong but that ends up weakening us until we die as the true failures we are.

Take responsibility.  When you fail, fail well.  You will find it makes you stronger, freer, and better.

“Success is not final.  Failure is not fatal.  It is the courage to continue that counts.”  -Winston Churchill