How Failure Can Help You Succeed

I love graduation season! It’s so awesome to celebrate the successes of family and loved ones.  This year we celebrated my niece who graduated with her master’s degree in Public Administration from American University. This girl is extraordinary! She’s charming and beautiful, as comfortable on the floor with her baby cousins as she is at an elegant table with dignitaries. She’s traveled the world and navigated influential political circles, and if you met her you might assume the path to success was laid out for her from the very beginning—that she is destined to be great.

But that’s not quite true.

I mean, she is destined to be great, but the path has not always been clear. You see, in high school she struggled to stay focused. In college, she did not—at first—balance well the responsibilities of school and social life. Like so many young people on their own for the first time, my girl finished her second year of undergrad behind the 8 ball!

Yet, despite her failures, she was, even then, moving in the direction of her destiny.  Although it was not apparent, something was happening.  She was growing up. She was figuring it out and preparing…

The path that led to her eventual success is one with which we are all familiar. Whether you’re 18 or 40, you can, no doubt, point to times when you’ve made poor choices or no choices! Perhaps you failed to start tasks or failed at tasks you started.  Failure is demoralizing, so we tend to avoid experiencing–and certainly avoid discussing—it.  We would rather pretend it doesn’t exist, or steer ourselves towards paths that are less risky—but at what cost? In his book Produced by Faith, Devon Franklin says “It is tempting to give ourselves an easy excuse not to audaciously pursue the career of our dreams [but] whoever said that faith was safe?” In other words, rather than avoiding or being ashamed of our failures, perhaps we should simply glean from them. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Winston Churchill)

As my niece worked through her personal and academic challenges, she also learned that every experience eventually works together for good. Circumstances, too, can push us to make the choice we might not have had the courage—or the will—to do otherwise. For her, it was stepping onto campus and into her junior year of college alone!  The friends who’d been with her since freshman year were gone. For the first time she was face to face with herself and God’s purpose, with no distractions.

And that’s when it clicked.

The years of meandering culminated in two years of focus and hard work that not only propelled her out of undergrad with honors, but also into a prestigious graduate program with full financial support!

What circumstances are you facing that might be pushing you towards positive action? Have you avoided failure or shied away from the lessons that your failures might teach? Don’t let present or past failures immobilize you. Let them propel you! It may just be a matter of time before it clicks!

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Cover image by Canva

Are You at Peace or in Pieces?

When I think about the story of Mary and her alabaster box, I am struck not only by her action, but also by her position. She is on the ground—in pieces–at Jesus’ feet–unlike Simon who sits pridefully at Jesus’ side. The contrast between these two is stark. As a religious leader, Simon assumes a position of entitlement. He serves alongside Jesus as His equal and has no sense of the lordship of Christ. Mary, on the other hand, is demeaned by the religious leaders and scorned by her community. No one sees her as worthy of any position except the gutter. Yet, it is because of her position of disadvantage that she is esteemed by the Savior. “Blessed are the meek,” the Bible says, “for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Simon didn’t hunger or thirst. He was seated at the table! Mary was the uninvited guest, she had not been offered a plate.

Can you relate?

I know I can. I often feel like Mary as I pursue my dreams. Unlike others who are seated at the table, I’m on the ground in pieces! Struggling with writer’s block, daunted by writing challenges, uncertain how and unable to establish a platform. Like Mary, I’m not esteemed in this industry. Maybe I’m not scorned, but I’m certainly not visible!

But perhaps the lesson is that, rather than striving to sit at the table, I should, first, get down on the floor.  Rather than chasing fame and glory, I should first be content with service and support. While society may snub their noses at the “meek,” turning my intentions away from my own objectives and towards another’s turns society’s logic on its head! That’s how it works, you know? It’s not that we’re destined to live in the pit, but that taking this posture prepares us for the palace. Without first being humble–maybe even humiliated, we may not be able to handle the challenges of success. 

What encourages me is knowing that God sees. In fact, this story suggests that it is when I am the most vulnerable and the least able to help myself that he is able to do his greatest work!  Could my disadvantage be an advantage? Mary’s was. Simon felt no need for a savior, so he received what he came for. Mary emptied herself in the puddle of perfume at Jesus’ feet and left the banquet in peace.

What will this look like in your own life? Think about emptying yourself first, then watch God fill you beyond what you thought possible!

Happy Monday.

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Quote by Nicole Reed.

Cover photo by Daria Litvinova on Unsplash

When You’re Stuck in the Waiting Place, Call the Doctor!

If I had a top 10 list of my favorite books, there is one that easily rises to the top…Oh the Places You Will Go by none other than that genius of a poet, Dr. Suess! I love this book because of how masterfully it balances whimsy and weight. Dr. Suess just had a knack for telling a childlike story while delving into the depths of what makes us all human! It was positively magical.

When I stumbled upon this treasure, I was sitting in a classroom full of third graders. I and other parents had volunteered to read to my daughter’s class and I had dutifully come to offer my contribution to the day of literacy. But, as one of the parents read, I was only half listening because the children were restless. Then something caught my ear …

You have brains in your head

You have feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself

Any direction you choose

It was so catchy! Then, there were other phrases that seemed quite profound…

Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.

Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t

Because sometimes you won’t

It so perfectly captured my own reality that I wasn’t sure I had heard it right. Was this Dr. Suess? Was this actually a book for third graders? I had to get my own copy! And when I did, I came to the “waiting” page and almost cried:

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go…

It’s exactly where I was–the waiting place–uncertain about the future and questioning the past. These simple lines said it all. Then, just like he says, the barometer shifted and things were moving again! Since then I’ve soared and I’ve crashed, but the place where I’ve lingered again and again is


… you’ll be best of the best.

… you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t,

It’s the perpetual cycle—the daily roller coaster:

  • Every day the thorn of doubt pokes me in my side making me uncomfortable with success.
  • Every day doubt stops me cold as my fingers hover over the keyboard. My thoughts are a blur and my mind as vacuous as the glowing screen.
  • Every day I question my ability to fulfill a very specific dream that exists only in my imagination, and I can’t seem to step off the merry-go-round. I move in a direction that only circles me back to where I started and I’m dizzy from the ride.

But Dr. Suess is unphased.

I’m sorry to say so

But, sadly, it’s true

That Bang-ups

And Hang-ups

Can happen to you.

Yet, like all our favorite stories, Oh the Places you will Go has a happy ending. “You will succeed” he assures us. “98 ¾ percent guaranteed.” And every time I close the cover of my favorite book, I’m encouraged to keep going.

So should you.