I believe in failure. As a self-avowed perfectionist I have come to accept failure as a lifelong companion and teacher. Now, don’t get me wrong, I hate failure. Always lurking around the corner, failure was the long time the frenemy who I dreaded showing up to sabotage my big plans. My first real experiences of failure happened right on TCU’s campus. Breezing through high school I showed up to my freshman year thinking my usual good attendance and class participation were adequate tools for the academic rigors of college coursework. While C’s and D’s are not technically failing, I’m sure most TCU students would agree with me that these sorts of grades were not the level of success I was accustomed to. That first year of academic embarrassment made me check my arrogance at the door and grace the walls of the library, finally developing those much needed study skills. Thankfully, my friend failure taught me the appreciation of hard work and the value of a truly earned A. Though I only achieved one A on a paper in the Religion Department’s God in Modern Thought, taught by Dr. Grant, that A is still one of my greatest academic achievements.
Failure was not only my hardcore academic teacher, but also saw me through the heart-bruising affects of dissolving friendships and breakups. Those four years at TCU were some of the happiest and most difficult years of my life. Who knew that failing so often and with such humiliating flair would actually be good for you? I certainly didn’t think that was part of the process, and when it happened I sure wasn’t capable of asking for help – failure wasn’t part of the achievement plan … right?
I can’t say exactly what caused me to change my perspective; perhaps it was finally being too tired of hiding my failures behind a perfectionist shroud, finding a good counselor, or just really beginning to embrace these moments as part of my life. When I thought my life was all about avoiding failure I couldn’t fully face what was behind those moments; but when I started to accept them I began to see failure everywhere. Not only in my life, but in everyone’s! From the very beginning we start out falling down, again, again, and again, until we’re finally capable of taking that first independent step. It’s through a series of failures that we finally grow, learn, and develop compassion for others and ourselves as we all struggle in the process of becoming.
Though I was fortunate enough to experience my first devastating failure at a point when I had a little maturity and life experience, this past year my daughter experienced failure at a much too young age. At 3 days old my healthy baby suffered a heart attack and stroke due to a series of failed surgical safety precautions. Through no fault of her own, failure has dramatically changed the course of her life. My husband and I are providing all the therapeutic and medical assistance she needs to recover, but as her mother, one of the greatest ways I can help my daughter is to teach her that failure is not the enemy.
Almost every day I still wish this hadn’t happened to her and our family, but I also remind myself that not only do we fail many times in our lives, but the failure of others also affects us. What is important to remember, however, is that these failures do not define who we are. The sum of all our failures is not the value of who we are, but rather, how we respond to these failures shapes the people we become. I still can’t say I like failure, and there are times that I downright hate it. But I also know that while my daughter has a long road ahead of her, at 8 months old her strength and tenacity have already proven stronger than any failure. We are years away from knowing the full extent of her recovery and I worry about how her peers will perceive her difference, but the results of this failure remind me many good things are still to come. The people that surround her and our family have shown me that rather than hiding, sharing our failures allows authentic community and support to come alive. Her story and courage have quite literally created a global community of prayer, support, and celebration of her many mighty accomplishments. Her whole life might have changed on that day because of failures, but that does not mean she will fail at living a full and rich life. We might be connected to one another through our failures, but we’re also interconnected in our shared growth and discovery because of these moments. I believe the ways we hold one another in these fragile moments makes us better people and a better community. I hope you’ll fail boldly and compassionately.
Rev. Robyn Bles was a TCU student from 1999-2003 and no matter where she has lived remains a Horned Frog fan. She currently lives in Des Moines Iowa with her husband Jordan, daughter Milly, and extremely friendly golden retriever Stella. She gratefully serves with the fabulous people of West Des Moines Christian Church. Go Frogs!