How To Be A Successful Failure

How To Be A Successful Failure

Featured in the February, 2010 Issue of the Ashburn Baptist News

Christopher Columbus was obsessed with the idea that he could get to the east by traveling west, but by sailing west he never did reach India.

He failed. Changing the course of history by discovering America, he also discovered that a good failure can be a great achievement.

If you set out to do something great enough, what you do incidentally may be more than is accomplished on purpose by someone else.

If you have never failed, perhaps it is because you have never tried. If you always succeed, it is because your projects are too small. Failures are not always bad. Some people’s failures are better than other people’s successes.

Thomas A. Edison recorded 1,093 patents. Most of these inventions were impractical or unmarketable. They were failures. But a man who invented the phonograph, the movie camera, the microphone, the mimeograph, and the electric light bulb could afford a lot of failures. He was so inept in business matters that he lost control of the profitable companies that he founded, and yet in the depths of the depression, he died with an estate of $2,000,000. Edison was a successful failure.

It is obvious that you learn as you fail. You also grow as you fail, but you must dare to fail. If you can fail enough you will learn a lot. But if you are too proud to fail, then you will remain ignorant. If you are too afraid to fail, then you will not enjoy success.

Failure is okay…sometimes. If there is nothing to lose, then you can afford failure. Even if the risks are guarded and the losses at a minimum, you can afford failure.

No one can afford to fail in a single situation. That is, you cannot hang all of life on one hook that will not hold. You cannot afford to invest all of your money in a failing project. You cannot afford to get in an irreversible situation such as a marriage that is headed for failure, nor can you afford failure in final situations; that is, you cannot stake your hope of eternal life on some shaky, unbiblical foundation, only to discover after you died that you were wrong!

This month, we are thinking about Abraham Lincoln, who was our most successful president. It was strange that he was a man marked for failure, a man suffering from melancholia, who endured long periods of depression throughout his life.

Lincoln could barely see out of one eye. He had frequent nervous attacks, severe headaches, indigestion, and nausea. He had a couch placed near his desk in the White House so he could quickly lie down when one of his spells came over him.

When Lincoln was 10 years old he was kicked in the head by a horse and experts now believe that the skull was severely fractured, leaving him with life long problems. When he came to deliver the famous address at Gettysburg, he was coming down with smallpox.

Lincoln failed in business in 1831, was defeated for the legislature in 1832. The next year he suffered another business defeat, and in 1836 had a nervous breakdown. He failed to be elected speaker in 1838, and was defeated for elector in 1840, and for Congress in 1843, and again in 1848, and failed to be elected to the Senate in 1855, and defeated for the Vice-Presidency in 1856, and for the Senate in 1858. However, being elected President in 1860, he could afford all those failures. Abraham Lincoln was truly a successful failure.

The trick is to learn how to use failure rather than letting it abuse you. Failure leaves you either more depressed or more determined. Having failed, you either think that you were foolish for trying, or that God is using the failure to prepare you for ultimate success. Success has ruined more people than failure. Awesome responsibility always accompanies success. God knows we must be ready.

Sometimes we are overwhelmed with failures because we see our own but do not notice those of others. The athlete is not celebrated for the games he lost; the photographer throws away his bad pictures; the potter reshapes his marred jars; and the painter displays only his best portraits.

Then perhaps God has different measurements for failure and success than we do. Paul the apostle was not acclaimed during his lifetime. He was rejected by Jews and held in suspicion by Gentiles. He was stoned, beaten, imprisoned, mocked by some, and ignored by others. He spent his life starting little churches that were soon overtaken with big problems so that they needed revisiting and letters written to straighten out the difficulties.

Paul taught the truth only to discover that those who had one day received it were the next day turning to some false doctrine. No glory crowns his life, nor is any success evident when toward his last days his friends desert him as he is held a prisoner, and then shamefully executed.

But Paul was a successful failure. One half of the books of the New Testament are from his pen, and he is now hailed as the greatest Christian missionary of all-time!