Q. I’m twenty-two years old and I feel like a failure. Others know how to say just the right thing. I stutter, put my foot in my mouth and say the wrong thing. Others work hard and get promoted. I work hard and lose my job. Others get married and live happily ever after. I can’t even keep a girl friend. Is there any hope for me?
A. You have failed at some things. This doesn’t mean your life is a total failure. Failure is painful and difficult but we all fail. Most of us fail every day. We’re lazy, selfish, tired, uncaring. We do or say something impulsively that hurts those we love. We do dumb things. We make mistakes. We don’t keep our promises. Our judgment is poor. We see only the trees and miss the forest. We’re all pros at failing. You’re not the only one!
The good news is that failure is one of life’s best teachers. We learn lessons from failure we would never learn if we succeeded at everything we did. Toddlers learn to walk only by falling down repeatedly. Older children learn to ride a two wheeled bike only after a few mishaps. Inventors learn to create new products only after their ideas fail over and over again.
Some blame God when they fail. Why did God let me mess up? Why did God allow me to lose my job? God allows us to fail so we will learn just as parents allow children to make their own mistakes in life.
Some, like you, blame yourself. “I always mess up.” “I’m a failure.” “I can’t handle life.” Such total blame of self may lead to a depressive spiral downward. It’s more productive is to ask, “What part did I play in this failure?” “Where did I go wrong?” “What can I do differently?” Facing our faults isn’t easy but it can teach you how to succeed the next time.
Some blame others when they fail. “My boss has had it in for me on everything I’ve done from the very beginning.” “No one in the entire company would help me with that project, no wonder it failed.” When we use global blaming statements we escalate our anger and despair. Also global statements are not true. We need to recognize that we share the responsibility for what happens. Others did let us down but we played a part in it.
Some dwell on their failures hiding from life, avoiding contact with others, nursing pain. There is a fine line between wallowing in self-pity or self hatred and facing our feelings honestly. Many will need to recognize and let go of anger, fear, and hurt feelings before accepting their own part in what has happened. But we must finally learn from past failures and then let go of them. Forgive yourself for your mistakes.
We also need to ask others for forgiveness. When we fail we often hurt others in the process. Asking forgiveness of those we have hurt involves admission of fault and determination to not repeat that hurt. We also need to repair the damage in any way we can.
What lessons can we learn from failure? We learn we are human, not perfect. We learn to accept the things we can’t control. We learn to put more thought and effort into what we do. We learn that when we fall down we need to get up and try again. We learn to ask for forgiveness. We learn to be kind to others who also fail.
I hope you will see a pastor or a Christian counselor to help you understand and accept your failures and grow beyond them; to help you learn failure’s lessons. There is hope for you.
“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24