Bernie Anderson
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Current musings, whatever they may be. 

Sunday Sermonizing: The Range and Grit of Failure

This post is a collision of three things from the past week.

Thing 1 - A visit with friends.

Some friends from back in our missionary/pastor days came and stayed at our house this week. It was a quick visit. We ate dinner. They slept. We disked them off to the airport in the morning. We shared memories — and stories. We understood each other. we talked about the importance of our failures.

Thing 2 - A podcast

One of my favorite podcasts is NPR’s “Rough Translation”. This podcast tells stories from around the world that focus on the fascinating and often surprising ways one idea can mean many different things, depending on where you live. This week’s episode was about failure.

Thing 3 - A book

The book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. Specifically, the author tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh. His was a fascinating journey of starts and stops, trial and error — and failure. At the end of his life, he had innovated the impressionist genre of painting in world-changing ways.

Conversations with friends and stories from this podcasts and book have me thinking about the realities of failure. In the startup world of 2019, failure isn’t viewed as a bad thing. At least in theory. Books and articles abound, with pithy titles like “How to Succeed by Failing” and “How the Mighty Fall.” We are trying to reframe the failure narrative, and that’s a good thing.

And a hard thing.

Because paint it red and cover it with essential oils all you want, failure is still failure. It doesn’t feel nice. It’s not motivating. It’s humiliating. It’s something most sane people want to avoid. I know of very few people with enough grit and gumption to look forward to failing.

Yet, it is inevitable. And even necessary. That’s the entirety of it. Failure does need reframing. There is something to learning grit. But also to trying new things, and even failing at new things. Failure can be culturally taboo. It can also be emotionally difficult.

But failure can and should be an option for most things. If you’re doing something with massive high stakes, like disarming a nuclear device or attempting open heart surgery — you should have already failed when the stakes were low.

Failure will happen in small ways this week.

The issue is learning the necessary grit for getting back up again. But not simply getting up for the sake of getting up. Getting up and learning while you rise.

What did I just learn?
What should I do differently next time?
What should be adjusted?
Who has gone before me?
What information am I missing?
Should I try this again, or try something completely new?

These are legitimate questions. Failure is a part of the process.

And the catalyst for all kinds of grace.

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.
— Proverbs 24:16
Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.
— Angela Duckworth