Understanding failure and how to face it

Haokip Thangpu *

We love Success! Nobody wishes to fail, not even to commit silly mistakes. Born and raised in a Christian home, I grew up listening to Bible stories; and the tales which never seemed to grow old have been those which talk about God's mighty acts and miracles, stories such as David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion's den, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea.

Likewise, one can identify parallel stories with similar effect from the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana tales that celebrate success, of heroes and the triumph of good over evil. Little does one remember stories of failures, disasters and villains.

But let's ask: Why?

Is it not because we love success? As children we have been taught in our homes and at schools to be successful. We grew up listening to talks, sermons and lectures on the 'why' and 'how' to become successful.

The thing is, we expect success from ourselves and from others. We celebrate success, we strive for success, we encourage one another towards success. We hold success in high regard; but failure, nobody wants to talk about. In fact, we despise failure. We hate it so much that we even scorn at those who fail. Even worse, we tend to dislike ourselves when we fail.

Our entire mind-set is wired towards success. SUCCESS is the goal. It's the only thing that matters. To be sure, we are incessantly bombarded with ideas about success. Our movies for instance glorify success with most of them, if not all, portraying a happily-ever-after-fairy-tale-like endings.

Our bookshelves are flooded with magazines, journals and writings on 'How to be Successful', 'Keys to Success,' 'Secrets of Successful People,' and so on. This is not to say however that pursuing success is a wicked thing. No! Success is good. But a sole focus on success is incomplete if we don't talk about failure and how to face it.

Take for instance the alarming rate of suicide deaths around the globe today. World Health Organisation estimates that about 8,00,000 people die each year due to suicide, that is one person every forty seconds. For that matter, consider the nation of Japan. A strict, disciplined work culture beginning from a very young age is the key behind Japan's status as one of the most developed countries today.

Every Japanese is trained to rigorously pursue success. The most notable example is their strict time management. Some years ago a train driver in Japan issued a public apology for starting the train early by 2 seconds. Can you imagine that? Still, Japan ranks high in the global list of suicide deaths. Why?

I believe it's because though they have been trained in the ways of achieving success they have not been taught lessons on how to handle failure. I am certain that the same is true for our context too. We have been taught, advised and disciplined all these times on achieving success but we have never been told anything about facing failure. Coming back to the topic on suicide, the question to ponder is: why would a person take such a step as drastic as taking his/her own life?

The answer I believe is failure. Failure is chief, if not the sole, cause of suicide around the world. People fail in many different areas academic, career, business, job, relationship, and so on. But is not failure a normal part of life? Who among us today has never tasted failure? I believe none. So then, if failure is inevitable, unavoidable part of life, why then do we seldom talk about it?

I believe it's the need of the hour to seriously consider this topic: How to handle failure. And by failure we mean not only failure in career, job, tasks, works, or dreams, but failure in a broad, comprehensive sense; failure which covers every dimension of life: personal, inter-personal, social, political, economic and spiritual. Before that, I would like us to also keep in mind that much of the content to follow pertain to theology owing to my background as a seminarian.

Types of Failure

Common failures: Mistakes which we commit on daily basis. Simple things such as forgetting things, missing appointments, being late for meetings, spilling tea or coffee, grammatical errors in speech or writings, etc. You get the idea, I believe.

Complex failures: A higher level of failure than the common ones such as failing of physical health and even deaths of loved ones, failure in studies and career, failure in relationships, failure to control your desires and emotions, and so on.

Moral failures: Failing God's standard such as having sinful thoughts and engaging in sinful actions. Falling into temptations. You resolve to give up a sinful behaviour but find yourself doing the same stuff again.

Causes of Failure

Sin (both as original sin and individual sin): I believe that in God's original plan of creation there was no room for failure. But sin (original sin) came and thus came failure. Yet, some failures are caused by our personal sin. There's nobody to blame for such failures except ourselves. King David's failure involving his sin against Bathsheba is a clear example in this regard.

Personal choices: Lack of discipline, impatience, trying to please everybody, overconfidence, pride, and so on.

Others' doing : Some failures are caused by no faults of ours, but purely because of the actions (or evil plans) of others. The case of Joseph being arrested and thrown into prison because of a woman's evil intention is a good example.

God's plan: Like it or not, some failures in life are designed by God. Not because he enjoys to see us fail, but because he wants the best for us. God in his all-knowing wisdom lets us to fail in our pursuit of certain things which unknown to us are harmful. Failure designed by God are instead aimed at helping us to grow and mature.

Lack of effort: Another simple yet common reason for failure is that we don't attempt anything at all, or perhaps the effort we give is not enough.

Effects of Failure

Failure is not to be taken likely; its effect is never pleasant. The different ways failure effects our lives as listed below can result in inability to lead a positive, healthy and fulfilling life; sometimes they can last lifelong.

Denial: Distracting oneself by engaging in various, often unhealthy, activities.

Emotional problems: Depression, despair, hopelessness, anger, low self-esteem, loss of confidence, etc.

Irrational beliefs: Believing in false thoughts and criticisms that says 'you are good for nothing,' 'nobody loves you,' 'even God hates you,' and the likes.

Doubt in God: Failure can cause loss of faith in God, doubt in God's goodness and plans for our life. It can even lead to questions over God's existence.

Handling Failure

Thinking right: First off, we must accept that failure is normal part of life. There is no one, nor has there ever been anyone, who has not tasted failure in life. Secondly, we are not our failure. Our failures do not define who we are. Our identity is not to be shaped by our failures.

Instead, we are to be defined by our identity in God as persons created in God's image, as beloved of God fearfully and wonderfully made, as a person precious in the sight of God. That's who you are. Do not believe in the lies of the Devil that rings in your ears; do not believe in the lies that people have to say.

Making good/right use of failures: Use failures as stepping stones to success. Turn your failures into experiences. Maybe you have been doing the wrong things, or doing things the wrong way. Perhaps what you need is a change of strategy. Or perhaps, there are things you must give up doing. It is said that Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric bulb, failed several times in his attempt to produce a working bulb.

But never did he give up. Thanks to his persistence we can enjoy the bright lights at night. On being interviewed, Edison said "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Our failures can teach us valuable life lessons if only we are willing to think wisely, be patient and then use our failures (read experiences) as a springboard to push us higher and fly!

Failures are inevitable. They come in varying degrees; but we have, all of us, faced them. Yet we move on; we turn our failures into experiences, and we use these experiences as stepping stones to success. A sole emphasis on success is incomplete.

Parents, teachers and educators ought to teach not only about success but about failure and how to face it as well. A good knowledge on how to handle failure is equally necessary as on how to achieve success.

* Haokip Thangpu wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at thangpu_haokip(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on March 30, 2019.

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