FAILURE: Only the Beginning of Success?
By Valerie McIntyre
Lately, I’ve been reading books on mountain climbing, specifically scaling mountains over 8,000 meters in height. I’m not entirely certain what has captured my imagination beyond the obvious—pure thrill. I suspect it’s the voyeuristic nature of reading about crazy things that other people do, things that would surely kill me if I ever tried them. The first time I read the book “Into Thin Air,” chronicling the disaster that happened on Mount Everest in 1996 when over 10 people died in a convergence of a wicked storm and series of questionable decisions, I was mesmerized. I literally walked down Fifth Avenue reading the book, unable to put it down. After I finished that book, I then read another account of the same storm by a man who had been hired by an adventure travel company to help bring people up to the summit. Only at the end of his own riveting tale did I read the footnote, the author died in an avalanche after writing the book I was reading. The deal with mountain climbing is that it is very dangerous, highly addictive to those that respond to its call, and can create a strange, almost a-morale sense of survival “at all costs.” Apparently, there are no morals above 8,000 feet. You may want to help that climber struggling in his ropes, but if you do you will surely die. You need to leave him behind.
So here I am, today, still reading these stories. Still fascinated. Why am I bringing this up? I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of failing. In the West we are obsessed with winning. If you aren’t a winner you’re a loser. End of story. But is it really? Is it really that black and white? And why does it matter? Because winning means you matter, that you can be assured of good things happening in your life, good things coming your way. Being a winner means that people will be attracted to you, want to know you, care what you have to say. Failing is not an option. It’s the kiss of death for your reputation, never mind your ego. Failing is for lazy people or people who haven’t been smart enough to do the right things to win. Maybe too, we think in the back of our minds, failing is for people who have been born on the wrong side of opportunity. Aren’t we lucky that hasn’t happened to us? But one of the prevailing concepts in my mountain climbing books is that the winners aren’t necessarily “better” than their fellow climbers, they’re just cautious. Only 200 meters from the coveted summit, the smart ones will turn around, go back down, and live to try again. Did they win? Nope, they lost. They lost their summit bid. Something they may have been working toward for years.
I’ve been considering the concept of failing because lately I’ve met a lot of people during this economic downturn who have lost their jobs, lost business, or seen their career stall. Admittedly, there is a good reason for this, and for those of us who have been riding the rollercoaster that is the shaky market, we don’t necessarily have to feel badly about where we’re at – we aren’t alone. But for someone like me who is a type-A personality, shaky market or not, it’s hard on some days not to feel a bit down. But this is also where my faith kicks in (thank goodness for hope!). I think about my heroes, the men and women in the Bible who saw the promise from afar, who never received the promise in their lifetime, and still kept going. I think about the men and women who walked and talked with Jesus, experienced the miracle of “God with us” and still were executed after a long life of serving the gospel. They didn’t care if the world thought they were losers, part of some strange sect, fools who believed a man could be raised from the dead. They may have looked like losers, but they weren’t. And I think about Jesus who for the joy set before him endured the cross. As he hung there on that hill, just days after His triumphant procession into the city, don’t you think people who knew him would have had their faith rocked, believed that everything they had hoped for was not true, after all? This was the Messiah? No, this was the ultimate loser, wasn’t he? From the outside he had lost everything that matters to most of us, not the least of all reputation. This is what I think about when I start to judge myself, and my life, and I’m re-energized to keep going, reminded that things are not always black and white, sometimes success looks like failure and often failure can produce character that then produces success. So, when contemplating my life and my experiences that feel like failure, I try not to think about what other people will think of me, or worst yet, my own ambition (like those unwise mountain climbers) I keep my eyes fixed on the author and perfector of my faith, and I remember that with Him when I am weak then I am strong.