Monday, February 19, 2007

On Failure

One of the constants in the two vocational worlds that I inhabit is the possibility of failure. My business could fail or I could fail to sufficiently inspire my students towards asking (and finding provisional answers) to big questions. In the past, the specter of failure has led to paralysis. The massive psychological damage that I carry around with myself from high school (and, to a certain extent, college) is largely due to my fear of failure.

Having the business going, however, has led me to rethink failure. Our motto is "Failure is not an option". Many business folks have this motto--it keeps you going during the tough times. But even though it is not an option for us, it is still a possibility. In times past, I would have thought this to be an aspect of man's original rebellion against God: futility. Sometimes this is so--our work against the sin and evil of the world do sometimes meet in futility, especially if large structurally boundaries are in our way. I used to think of the human body in a similar (Platonic) way: man's pure essence was his soul and his body held it down in sin, to be released to heavenly bliss only upon death. I think this way no longer. Man is created as a whole being and the whole being must be redeemed. The problem isn't the limitation of finitude, of being 'in-the-flesh', but of sin. The same applies to failure: the problem isn't that failure is possible, but that sin distorts possibilities.

In other words, if Adam had never rebelled I think that experimentation would still continue. Cultural learning, striving, succeeding all would have gone on. He would have failed at some things: in fact, Adam failed at the first thing he did. He classified the animals looking for a "power comparable to him" (the literal Hebrew behind "a helper meet for him"), but failed in doing so. God had to put Adam down and form his helper from his own flesh.

Failure, then, can be seen as a step to success. I should probably clarify and say "trying failure" can be seen as a step to success. The failure that comes with apathetic non-caring will never be a path anywhere but more failure. But failure that comes after trying something wholeheartedly, but not working, can be a teaching experience for future action. That was the important thing that I missed back in high school: I wasn't trying to plan for the future, I wanted what I wanted now (then).

My business would not be going as well as it is, and I would not have found my calling in it, without the prospect of failure. Failure would have been devasting, but recoverable. The strange thing that I'm learning about entrepenuers is that they will usually try something again after they fail. They will start another business, or they will get into another ministry, or whatever. Our tried failures never are the final word.

1 comment:

Eves37 said...

What an interesting take on the concept of failure. I automatically associate it with pain, though, and that's a reality I've always seen in conjunction with the fall.