…that you’re failing at something?
If you have, great news! I think we’ve all been there. You just get the sense that you’re just bailing water out of some part of your ship to keep it afloat. No, I can’t help bail you out, because I’m using my bucket to bail myself out. Maybe that’s great news to you, maybe not.
When I was a kid, the adults just started getting on this kick about telling us that we were all “winners,” no matter how badly we performed. Some kids bought into it (the kids who would’ve otherwise been “failures,” no doubt.) And that thinking has grown and grown into a sea of participation ribbons and neutered school playgrounds. Everyone feels special inside the cocoon of childhood.
This weekend, I spent a lot of time thinking about failure, and little league, and video games and Jesus, and I figured out a few new things that we all need to know when we feel like failures.
Was Jesus a Failure?
It’s never a good feeling to realize you’re probably failing. What are you afraid you’re failing at today? Your job? Parenting? A Test? Paying the bills? Loving your spouse? Talking to a friend? Confronting an addiction? Launching a dream? Running a business? Writing a blog? Getting healthy? Showing compassion? Forgiving someone? The possibilities for failure seem endless.
I wonder if Jesus ever failed at anything. Do you think he was a successful carpenter? I think he would’ve had to have been. What’s less likely, that a Jewish rabbi was actually the Son of God, or that a Jewish rabbi pretended to be the Son of God because he was a failure at business? The Bible has some stories that are hard to believe, but not that preposterous.
No Participation Ribbon
It’s one thing for the realization to dawn on you that you are failing. If that happens, we can always ignore it. Or live in denial. Or tell ourselves that we’re doing our best. Something to convince ourselves that we are still “special” and a winner.
But it’s entirely another thing to be confronted by your shortcomings, for someone else to make crystal clear to you that you suck. Your boss chews you out. Your kids get in trouble. You get an F. The final notice comes in the mail. Your spouse files for divorce. Your photo winds up online with the word FAIL.
Last week, it happened to me at work. I was told I was failing (in a Christian “God bless you” way). It didn’t feel good. I wasn’t given a participation ribbon and told that I’m still a winner. No one tried to save my self esteem. There was no pizza party afterward.
The funny thing was, I was surprised that it took that long for someone to confirm what I had suspected for a couple of months: that in one specific part of my job, I was not cutting it. My boat is slowly taking on water, and if the leak is not plugged, I will drown.
The other funny thing was how, well…freeing it felt to have someone say out loud to me what I could not, that there are tasks I’ve taken on that I’m not built for, that I’m not good enough, not smart enough, and gosh darn it, people don’t like me enough to let me go on failing. No, I didn’t get fired. My job needs some significant re-calibration.
Learning to Fail
And that brings me back to the playground. Adults believe kids are so fragile, that the word “lose” and “fail” have practically been removed from childhood vocabulary.
What do kids learn from competition that is really important? Most kids won’t grow up to be pro ball players. So what will kids learn that they will actually use as adults?
They learn how to fail.
They learn how to cope with failure, to try again, to not blame others more than themselves, to understand that failure is a universal law of nature. By saving their sweet little self esteems, we’re only setting kids up for crashes when they become adults and feel the sting of defeat for the first time.
I think kids instinctively know that the adults are full of it, though. Kids spend more time than ever playing video games, much to the chagrin of most adults. What practical skills could they possibly be learning, you ask? How to shoot aliens and make out with hot alien babes? Love or hate the games, they’re learning how to fail, dozens and dozens of times, for hours on end, and keep persisting at a challenge.