How To Respond To Failure
December 19, 2014 AOA
In Insights

We are confronted by fear whenever we intend to do anything worthwhile. Some specific categories of fear we face are: the fear of outright failure on your first outing, the fear of failing again having failed before, and the fear of success. Each of these is very potent. The most crippling of these fears in my opinion is the fear of failing again. Having tried and failed once presents a more formidable obstacle than the fear possessed by first attempters. It is a sum of the outright fear of failure which every first attempter faces supported by the empirical proof of the effects from a previous episode. Firsthand knowledge of the fallout from a past event paralyzes us.

Failure leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of its victims and has an accompanying restraining power. Psychologists theorize that there are a few emotional, psychological and sometimes physiological effects of failure on human beings such as shame, self doubt, depression, anger, disappointment, regret, frustration, and confusion. All of these can be very toxic, not to mention unpleasant therefore it is justifiable that fear will be a dominant emotion felt when faced with a situation where failure is a possible outcome.

Naturally, the aftermath of a failed business crystallizes into a potent fear that restrains you from starting another business. The stress it caused your family, the financial pit you dug yourself into, the effort and countless hours invested, opportunity cost of your time and resources, seemingly dashed hope of early retirement, among other consequences serve as a very real reminder not to dare try again. The consequent fear is quite tangible and maybe even rational.

However, courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. I doubt that anyone on this side of eternity will be totally free of fear; it is a common denominator to all humans therefore the few that succeed are men that must have overcome their fears along the way. Joshua upon taking the mantle of leadership of Israel from Moses was repeatedly charged by God to be courageous which implicitly suggests that he was afraid.

 19 Isaac’s servants also dug in the Gerar Valley and discovered a well of fresh water. 20 But then the shepherds from Gerar came and claimed the spring. “This is our water,” they said, and they argued over it with Isaac’s herdsmen. So Isaac named the well Esek (which means “argument”). 21 Isaac’s men then dug another well, but again there was a dispute over it. So Isaac named it Sitnah (which means “hostility”). 22 Abandoning that one, Isaac moved on and dug another well. This time there was no dispute over it, so Isaac named the place Rehoboth (which means “open space”), for he said, “At last the Lord has created enough space for us to prosper in this land.” – Genesis 26:19-22 (NLT)

In the historical era in which our text occurs, wells were required for survival. As you can imagine, there were no taps with elaborate plumbing to municipal water sources. Wells were the only way to have access to water when needed and men often camped beside wells in order to keep their flocks watered. Isaac needed a well for the survival of himself, his entire household and his animals. It was a matter of exigency; life and death. The first well he dug was taken from him, and likewise the second one was taken by force. In essence, he had tried twice and failed. He was however blessed with the threat of death and ruination if he failed to secure a water source therefore giving up was not an option. He was sufficiently motivated to find a well. Unfortunately, the average person isn’t blessed with this motivating factor in his daily pursuits. The option exists to retract and never try again whilst incorrectly thinking there aren’t any real consequences for such an attitude. For most people, there are certain things they tried once which failed hopelessly. If you tried only once, you haven’t tried enough. The best way to succeed after failing is to try again – as many times as is necessary.

For Isaac, giving up after failing meant literal death. If we are convinced that every desire we suppress due to a fear of “re-failing” means death (figuratively speaking), we would never give up. Every time you rationalize away a God-given desire and convince yourself not to try again (which we do every day), a part of you dies. Let me try to explain this without going off topic. Your purpose is who you are and the very essence of your existence. Your God-given dreams are pieces of your purpose; therefore sabotaging those dreams due to fear of failure is destiny suicide. Two things to consider from Isaac’s narrative are the right perspective and strategic flexibility.

Perception is everything and will often determine how you interpret and react to situations. Failure can be very injurious and it can also be very helpful. It depends on your perspective. Gasoline can be used to fuel a car for transportation and it can also be used to incinerate a car. It depends on how it is used. Likewise, failure can be burnt as a fuel to power you on or as a fuel that consumes your drive. You can rationalize or you can see it as Isaac did; giving up means death. The reflex response to failure is to retract. The fear of failing again can be intense but when contrasted with the fear of death, it is easily surmountable. I’ll rather fail again than die. It is that simple.

Overcoming the fear of failing again might be inadequate without strategic flexibility. It is said that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and hoping for a different result. Isaac tried again but he only succeeded after he made strategic changes; he changed location. The first attempt should have taught him not to dig in the valleys of Gerar. He dug a second well without changing location and suffered the same fate. He failed a second time. Finally, he changed location and then he achieved success. You might need a slightly different strategy but the bottom line remains that you must try again. I have heard people say ‘just try again’ and that makes no sense to me. Failing once has an advantage in that it shows you a strategy that does not work. Every event of failure should leave you wiser.

Thomas Edison, the great American inventor with over a thousand patents once said ‘I failed my way to success’. Every successful man is a man that has failed before but did not allow himself to be paralyzed by failure. Same applies to all endeavors; a failed exam, a failed marriage, a failed business, a failed ministry, or a failed project. Have you given up on a dream or pursuit because of previous failed attempts? Try again. How do you try again? Change strategy and try again. How many times do you try? Until it succeeds. Why should you try again? It is a matter of life and death.

 No man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom. Shalom!