Not long ago I came across a social media post from a “leadership guru” that had posted a meme stating “Failure is Not an Option!”  He went on to comment that if you are going to get what you want, then you should not accept failure; that you should always push forward and for those who win, failure is not an option.

While I do not know anybody who likes to fail, the reality is that many times, for various reasons, we will all experience failure and it does not have to be something that we run from or choose to accept. 

The reality is that if I had seen this many years ago, I would have wholeheartedly agreed at failure not being an option. I would have mentally pounded my chest with all of the vim and vigor that comes with the unhealthy male ego while proclaiming that failure is not an option. And to do so, would have meant a few fundamental things: 

I Would Have Continued to Live in Denial & Limited My Learning 

One of the things I have learned about failure over the years is that it causes you to come face-to-face with some of the parts of yourself that are not attractive.  Failure has a way of stripping you down to your core and exposing the most vulnerable parts of yourself.

When we embrace the idea that failure is not an option we severely limit our learning, our ability to improve, and if you are like I was, you blame everyone else for what went wrong (a clear sign of narcissism). 

While embracing and coming face-to-face with our failures is never easy, I have found it is often the time where I learn the most. 

I Would Not Be Who I Am Today 

Over the last number of years, I have worked hard to get back to the truest form of myself – my core identity. This has included the willingness to be vulnerable and authentic; a scary proposition but one that is needed in order to have meaningful and intimate relationships.

Part of that journey back to myself was coming face-to-face with my personal and professional failure and owning it based on the choices I had made. Another part of that journey was holding fast to the truth that my failures were part of my story, but not THE story – mine is still being written.

All too often we confuse who we are with what we have done, how we have failed, or how we have triumphed. However, our victories and defeats, no matter how grand or how shallow do not define who we are at our core, and when we understand that in our heart and mind it can transform us and at the same time shape who we become.

Resisting the truth of failure stunts our growth and our potential to be better people.

I Would Have Missed The Experience of Grace and Forgiveness 

Most people are familiar with the story in the Bible known as the prodigal son. Jesus shares a parable of a son who goes to his father and requests his inheritance. In ancient days this was akin to the son telling his father he wished he were dead. The father obliges the son’s request and before long the son squanders the inheritance and finds himself broke and eating pig slop as a means of sustenance. After a period of time, the son realizes that even his father’s servants are living better than he is, so with his ego shattered, he abjectly begins the trek home in hopes he can find a place far better than where he has landed.

Upon seeing his son returning, the father runs towards him, embraces him, kisses him, and welcomes him with a welcome home party for the ages. He proclaims to all who will listen that he had a son who was dead, but now he is alive. There was no lecture, no “I told you so’s” and no looking back on all the way’s the son had failed. The father simply celebrated and was filled with joy that his son had returned home. 

I think a lot about that parable and the grace and forgiveness the father willingly gave his son. I also used to wonder if the son somehow felt ashamed or embarrassed to be at the party after all he had done and what he had put his father through. However, after a good number of years of thinking and reading that story countless times, I am convinced that the son wept with gratitude at the grace and forgiveness from his dad. I believe he was in awe and could not believe what he was experiencing. 

To receive grace and forgiveness from others for our failings is a profound experience that shapes and molds you. It truly leaves one confounded and grateful. Yet, when we reject the idea of failure or refuse to believe it is not an option in our lives, we miss out on this experience of beauty.

I am not encouraging you to go out and fail, we should try and succeed in anything we do. However, be open to the idea that because we are flawed human beings, we will fail in small and big ways. Rather than dismissing it, embrace it, learn from it and relish in the grace and beauty that can rise from the ashes of failure. 

Photo by the blowup on Unsplash