“Go forth to fail”… hardly an inspiring motto or encouraging word of wisdom to offer anyone beginning a new job, moving to a new town, exploring a new relationship, or just heading out the door into a new day. We have been conditioned from our earliest childhood experiences to avoid failure at all costs. Nobody wants to be the one who lets the opposing team score the winning point. Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the class, or the end of the line. We don’t want to be singled out as the example of “what not to wear/say/do/be”. So it is natural, that we should develop this aversion to failure – even to the point of being afraid to make a mistake.
I have a calligraphy print in my office which usually goes unnoticed, but which lately I’ve taken down and studied. In the middle of the print are these words – It is only those who never do anything who never make mistakes. And then all around that statement, in smaller print, are other words of wisdom like these:
- “Nothing is so exhausting as indecision, and nothing is so futile” – Bertrand Russell
- “While one person hesitates because s/he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior” – H.C. Link
- “Mama always said that I would profit from all of my mistakes. I should be a multi-millionaire by now!” – Robert M. Pruitt
It is true that no matter how you define success, getting there requires a mental shift that isn’t always easy. It is a shift that flies in the face of our usual conventions, and our everyday perceptions about the world. It is a shift that allows us to “go forth to fail.” This does not mean that we actually court failure, or that we set out to make mistakes willy-nilly. It does mean that we view our mistakes from a different vantage point. It is recognizing them as nothing more than steps along the journey of life, and seeing failure not as the end of the road, but as a wayside stop which gives us a chance to reflect, refocus and redirect our energies.
Mistakes are inevitable. And failure is a given in human life. So the question is not so much “how can I avoid it?” as “how can I respond to it?” As the apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians, God is the first to suggest we lose our fear of failure, saying “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” (Paraphrased by Eugene Peterson) Even the weakness we feel when we from time to time, go forth to fail!