Do you want to know what it is? The secret is that there is no secret. As Fastcompany recently pointed out, overnight success is extremely rare.

  • Angry Birds, the best-selling Apple App was software maker Rovio’s 52nd attempt at successful software in 8 almost-bankrupt years.
  • James Dyson failed in 5,126 prototypes before perfecting his revolutionary vacuum cleaner.
  • Before Oprah was Oprah, before Jobs was Jobs, they were labeled as misguided dreamers rather than future captains of industry.
  • WD40 lubricant got its name because the first 39 experiments failed. WD-40 literally stands for “Water Displacement–40th Attempt.

The basic difference between successful people and the rest of us is that they’ve learned to fail well. They humbly embrace their mistakes, use them as opportunities to learn, and persevere until each shot got them nearer the bullseye.

  • Apple founder Steve Jobs ascribes his present success to reevaluating his life after three setbacks: dropping out of college, being fired from the company he founded, and being diagnosed with cancer.
  • J.K. Rowling lost her marriage, parental approval and most of her money. But then, with nothing left to lose, she turned to her first love – writing. “Failure stripped away everything inessential,” she said. “It taught me things about myself I could have learned no other way.”
  • Michael Jordan said: “I have failed over and over and over again, and that is why I succeed.
  • The American chess master Bruce Pandolfini, who trains many young chess players, said: “At the beginning, you lose – a lot. The kids who are going to succeed are the ones who learn to stand it. A lot of young players find losing so devastating they never adapt, never learn to metabolize that failure and to not take it personally. But good players lose and then put the game behind them emotionally.”
  • Philip Schultz wrote a book of poems about his writing failures. Entitled, Failure, it won a Pulitzer prize!

If we have learned to fail well:

  • We will have realistic expectations of ourselves and our work.
  • We will not soar too high on success, and we will not sink too deeply upon a setback.
  • We will not resent or envy the “success” of others, nor will we get caught up in trying to imitate them.
  • We will diligently and patiently labour in our vocations, gradually developing our talents and skills for God’s glory and the good of others.
  • We will confess our failures, seek our Lord’s forgiveness, and pray for His re-directing guidance.
  • We will emerge from our failures humbler and weaker, but wiser and happier too.
  • Eventually we will see how God can transform our ugly failures into something profitable and even beautiful.

As the Apostle Peter might say: “Sometimes, failure is the best thing that can happen to us.”

  • Aimee Byrd

    This is great. It is especially liberating for the Christian–we have nothing to lose if we truly have Christ. In our so-called failures, we can continue to take risks knowing that anything that is not in Christ is rubbish anyway. Failure is merely God pointing us in another direction.

  • Peter

    Thanks for the post. I can see the WD-40 story making a great sermon example in the future.

  • emily hope

    love this! similar to something my husband always reminds me of: to be faithful, not perfect. thanks for sharing.