Almost a year after grad school, while all my friends were receiving job offers left and right, I was still seating guests at a restaurant, with nothing to show for my two degrees.
According to society, I had failed at life. And a lot of days, it really felt like I had.
The idea of failing haunted me, as it haunts many of us, time and again. In a world that values success, most of us do all we can to avoid having to hang our heads in shame, even just for a moment.
Unfortunately, a life without any failure is impossible. We all fall short. From relationships, to friendships, to tests and careers, we will all feel the impact of hitting rock bottom on more than one occasion. But while failure carries with it a negative connotation, it can also act as a catalyst for many positive experiences.
Here are four ways to use failure well.
Use Failure as a Teacher
After finally having invented the light bulb, Thomas A. Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
What many would have seen as a catastrophic let-down, Edison saw as a learning opportunity. Not only did he finally succeed in seeing his invention come to life, in the process he was able to learn about what didn’t work and develop new skills along the way.
Similarly, our own failures can be important teachers. Maybe you bombed an interview. Now you know better how to prepare for the next one. Maybe you just experienced a heart-wrenching breakup. Now you know better what you truly want in a relationship or what kind of partner you need to be.
Failure teaches us that life is not measured in victories. In his book Search for Significance, Robert S. McGee explains that “maybe God is trying to get your attention to teach you a tremendously important lesson: that success or failure is not the basis of your self-worth. Maybe the only way you can learn this lesson is by experiencing the pain of failure. In His great love, God leads us through experiences that are difficult but essential to our growth and development.”
McGee sheds light on what many of us see as a dark time in our lives. We have been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and no amount of triumphs or trials will ever change that.
Beyond the immediate disappointment, frustration and anger you may feel after falling short, there is always something to be learned—whether it be about yourself, another person or a life lesson. It only counts as a failure if you fail to learn from your experience.
Use Failure To Force You to Rely on God.
Paul, the man who was responsible for persecuting other Christians, turned out to be one of the greatest missionaries in the world. God met Paul during the lowest point of his life and pursued a relationship with Him that would eventually allow for the conversion of many others.
In the same way, God can use our failures as a foundation for a renewed faith in Him. Never in our lives do we depend on God so much as when we fail. As a result, not only do we learn to put our faith in on Him, we also begin to see our lives from a Kingdom standpoint. Each time we fall, it is just another puzzle piece being placed into the greater picture God has planned for us. This is not a justification for the sins we commit or the poor choices we might make, but a reassurance that God works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Use Failure to Build Your Character
As Kanye knows, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger. It is through our failures that we begin to develop traits we would not have developed otherwise—traits like patience, perseverance and understanding.
It took me a year to land a job as a teacher. Rather than giving up, I continued to slave away at writing cover letter upon cover letter and seeking new postings. During that time, I grew in patience as I waited on both the Lord’s timing and for the job market to open up.
Romans 5:3-4 says, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” When we feel paralyzed by a particular incident, we are forced to act and behave in ways that might seem out of character for us. Yet, this state of paralysis simultaneously builds our character and equips us for future hardships.
Use Failure to Force You to Open New Doors
We often equate failure with a closed door. What we don’t realize is that thanks to this closed door, we are forced to take notice of all the other open doors around us. While it’s good to be fixated on a goal, sometimes being too focused causes us to be blind to what God wants us to see.
Proverbs 16:9 reads, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” By allowing the doors to the opportunities you had hoped for to be shut, God can redirect you onto the path He wants you to take—a path that promises a greater joy and a richer experience.
After almost a year of trying to get onto the supply list for a school board in my hometown of Ottawa, I received a call from an agency in England asking if I would be interested in teaching abroad. That thought had never even occurred to me. I thought I had failed, but according to God, I was waiting to walk through the door that stood before me. The same door I had been oblivious to in the midst of chasing my own ambition.
Whether you feel like you’ve failed God, yourself or others around you, you can be sure that your failures will not go to waste. God continues to remain faithful to us by graciously working His will in and through us even in failure.