Failure IS an Option

Do you fail? 

Can you accept failing?

Are you okay working towards something and have it fail?

Or must everything that you do succeed?

In the words of Gene Kranz, the NASA flight director for Apollo 13:

 "Failure is not an option." 

Sure, he was using this statement as motivation for the astronauts experiencing severe trials on which their lives depended on focusing and executing specific tasks, and so for that particular moment it was a good, and motivational statement.

But our society has starting to universalize this statement.

There are businesses too big to fail, and the economy cannot fail either, right?

Students can no longer fail at a class or subject. I'm not discussing what constitutes failure, but is there not a level of competency which is necessary in a given field of study that can be failed if a lack of effort or aptitude is present? (I'm not saying that grades need some revisiting, particularly at younger ages, as learning is a multi-faceted process.)

The recent Harvard University cheating scandal hinged on just such an expectation that failure was not an option, and so despite having an open source (book, note, and Internet) final examination. Many of the students claimed that collaboration was acceptable and that they all needed the A in the class. (Ironically, the class was introduction to Congress so it seems like perhaps the subject matter rubbed off on the students? JUST KIDDING!) At least one paper released the opinion that the scandal had less to do with moralizing cheating as it did with the idea of not being able to fail. So students felt pressured by parents, family, friends, the school, and society to never fail. If they are going to scale upwards and be successes in our modern America, then they cannot fail.

What is interesting is that there are many statistics out there that show just the opposite. I'm not sure the source, but I've heard it said that the average successful small business owner has had seven small businesses fail prior to succeeding. Of course we can look at the individual stories of people like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Thomas Edison, or Walt Disney to see people who succeeded after failing. 

These are business examples, but they also illustrate just how elusive ideas such as failure and success are. Is it purely financial gain? Is it simply the creation of enduring organizations? Is it being ambitious and stubborn enough to pursue through to a goal and never slipping up, even once, in the determined pursuit of that goal?

What do we make of our national leaders then, when there is moral failure? Did General Petraeus succeed or fail? Is it so easily lumped together when he obviously demonstrated success in the operations of counter-insurgency operations in Iraq. Yet, he did have a moral failure in having an affair with his biographer. Our national pulse, found in the media, seems to look at that failure and remove him from the list of successes into a type of more disgraced-former leader or success. Religious leaders have similar expectations placed upon them, only to have all faith and understanding placed on them when they fail morally or financially.

Failure is possible in one area of life while not being present in another. This much is true, and we all know it. 

We know that for the common masses, people mess up. 

People get fired. 

People break the law.

People say stupid things.

People get divorced.

People do what they know they shouldn't do.

People mismanage their business.

People go bankrupt.

People lose loved ones.

People get addicted.

People fail.

I fail. You fail. We all fail.

I believe we need to realistically embrace failure in our lives. 

We need to not be in denial of failure. 

Sometimes, we need to not try to put a silver lining on failure, but just acknowledge it for what it is.

Do we not all need to know that it is OK to fail? That while failure is not the goal, we can be freed to try something without having to ensure step by step that it is guaranteed to succeed?

It seems like this would not bring most people to the points where their true potential, their true identity and the ability to be virtuous shines forth.

None of us are infallible. We all face adversity. 

Failure IS an option. It just isn't the only option.

After we fail, do we pick ourselves back up, or allow ourselves to be corrected or embraced by others?

After others fail, do we come around them and help them get back up? Or do we just shake our heads or point our fingers, or simply be glad that it was not us that failed (like that Pharisee that prayed that he was not like the rest of these sinners).

We can learn from failure, with men like John Wooden knowing that losses by some of his basketball teams instilled more character and appreciation in his teams to reach lofty goals than those that seemingly did not face as many trials.

I think I need to remember that I can fail. Not that I want to fail, but I recognize that in the adversity, failure is not to be feared, but simply recognized. 

There is a name for such an action: Grace.

Neither success nor failure earns us anything lasting of value, does it? Our acceptance lies in the grace extended to us by God, because we all do fail at times (and succeed at others!). 

The great mystery is that our value comes not from succeeding or failing, but in simply being. 

Accepting failure in our lives and the lives of others, bearing with one another through these moments, that is grace.

Grace does not keep us from trying, but instead gives us the hope to try our hardest, but knowing that regardless of what happens, we are still valuable. 

Failure may be exactly what we need to recognize how loved we are, or how accepted we are.

Failure IS an option. 

Failure is perfectly OK as long as we allow ourselves to get back up and try again.

Grace exists.