Fail Forward: Six Things I Learned from Failure
by Tasha Levi
I’m a sucker for motivational videos that make me want to quit my job, sell all my stuff, skydive into Brunei, and just completely start over; start a business or something. Videos like Denzel Washington’s Dillard University commencement address: “Don’t Be Afraid To Fail Big,” Will Smith’s “Face Your Fears,” or Luvvie Adjaye’s TED Talk “Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable.” While I probably never will, (especially the skydiving part because-- heights), there’s something about the idea that awakens me. Something about this idea that awakens everybody, really. There are so many themes in our culture about overcoming fears, defying odds, defying gravity! It’s because God made us in His image -- our true nature being valiant, fearless, and more than conquerors. We weren’t created to live in fear; confined to comfort zones. We were made to win!
So, at the start of 2017, equipped with my optimism and the promises of God, I leapt confidently into a new year, surprisingly, rich with failure.
From taking on freelance work, fundraising, and friendships, 2017 proved to be awkward, embarrassing, and painful. Ya girl failed hard and failed often. Or, it’s as Thomas Jefferson said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” Finding 10,000 ways that didn’t work helped me develop a definitively stronger sense of agency as I learned how to unapologetically say “no,” defend something I believe in, and drown out self-doubt and insecurity. Here are six things I learned from failure:
Failing ain’t pretty. There is no cute Pinterest-esque typography nor Leave No Man Behind by Hans Zimmer playing in the background. Those moments don’t feel inspirational. It feels a lot like being a total loser. Plus, you have to know what chapter you’re in. Are you in the “Potato-sack-wearing-Oprah in Mississippi” chapter, right now? Or, are you the “Walt Disney when Laugh-O-Gram Studio Went Bankrupt” chapter?
You already win by trying. Whether it’s going back to school, starting a new business, or trying to get pregnant again after a miscarriage. Choosing to take the first step is an accomplishment of its own.
You need to know that it's okay to fail even when everyone is telling you it's absolutely not, because they will. In a culture that relishes the Malcolm Gladwells and Bréne Browns, you'd be surprised at how few people believe this. Like, maybe they believe it for themselves, but they will not be as generous when it applies to you. This is why it’s so important for you to be your own safe space.
Own it! When something goes wrong, take inventory of what you could have done better so you know how to improve for the next time. Deflecting and making excuses prohibits you from being trusted with future opportunities of growth, and it gets in the way of you learning from that error. Besides, it’s just immature. No one wants to work with someone who can’t look them in the eye and take responsibility for their actions. Defending yourself can be such a knee-jerk reaction that you use to offset the heavy load of blame, pain, and embarrassment. The fear of taking ownership is a direct reflection of how you see failure: as either an aptitude assassination or an opportunity.
Fail with the right tribe. Take risks with people who aren’t competing with you. People who won’t delight in your downfall or reinforce your insecurities. People who will challenge you by speaking the truth in love. Surround yourself with those who see you beyond your lowest point, support, and inspire you. “Debbie Downers” will cost you too much. Identify them fast and establish boundaries.
Do not let failure define you. Don’t let fear and regret settle in, but find the courage every time, to get up and try again. Like Winston Churchill said, “Success means going from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.”
Something that shocked me to no end, and frankly still shocks me, is that God blessed my mistakes! Like, stupid things I did when I should have known better. While I railed against myself -- He covered my butt when I did things no reasonable human would do. It reminds me of the passage, "Man sees the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) He saw me looking for discipleship, asking honest questions, seeking wisdom, and doing the wrong thing. I met the God who still gave Abraham and Sarah a son despite the fact that Ishmael happened. I met the God who still gave David an inheritance despite the fact that Bathsheba happened.
Remember, you're not out here taking risks alone or failing alone. Although you may be equipped with the most supportive squad, or inspiritive playlist, there is a Heavenly Father working all things for the good of those who love Him. Believe that!