I volunteer in a religious organization that serves 12-18 year old girls. We meet twice weekly, once for a lesson and once for an activity. The girls are usually there willingly, but some are there out of obligation.
One of the programs in place to help the girls is focused on personal progression. There are various values described with small tasks to be completed for each value. The tasks include things like focusing on kindness for two weeks to setting a personal goal around a new skill. It’s a brilliant program. I completed it myself many years ago, and it’s a privilege to help these girls do the same.
Each year there is an annual celebration – an evening of excellence. Historically, the purpose of this evening was to celebrate the progress made by each girl through this program. Any tasks or projects that had been completed were to be celebrated in the company of loving family and friends. It was a night of celebration of accomplished goals, and a night to renew the desire for continual growth as an individual and child of God.
It’s a glorious night. Inspirational and full of honor. This event for me was always one that inspired me to do better, and to always strive to be my best self.
One year I came into the organization mid-planning, and was surprised to discover that in an attempt to be all-inclusive, the group had decided to celebrate anything the girls had done, whether or not they had intended to do so, or whether or not it was part of this particular program.
Now listen. I get it. I understand wanting to include everyone. I understand not wanting to shame anyone for not setting and achieving a goal.
But that’s not really the attitude that came across as the other leaders and girls described to me what was happening. It seemed more… well…. like it was hard to set goals but let’s have a party anyway.
I’m not opposed to telling the girls how great they are. Truly. They are wonderful young women who have bright futures. And I’m also not opposed to an evening of celebration for the girls and all they’re doing.
The issue I’m having is with the goals themselves.
See, these girls are doing amazing things. Without even trying. They’re remarkable. They’re excelling in school and extracurricular activities and they’re kind and compassionate and delightful to be around.
But they’re afraid to set goals.
Because what happens if you set a goal? YOU COULD FAIL.
Oh heavens, you could fail.
And then what? You’d be a failure, right? Because when you fail once that clearly defines you – a whole entire person – as a failure.
Let me be ultra clear – I DO NOT BELIEVE ONE FAILURE DEFINES YOU.
But that’s what failure feels like.
We’re so unaccustomed to failure that when we do it feels like it defines us.
But we KNOW this isn’t the case. We know when we fail we simply have to get back up. It might hurt. It might suck entirely. But we have to do it.
Failure wins if you don’t get back up.
The second you get back up, though… you win.
I mean, you failed, so you might not have won won, but you win a small victory in the bigger picture.
There’s a Japanese proverb that says “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”
The hardest part of failing is staying there, dwelling in it.
Get back up.
Here’s what I really wish those girls knew about failure…
Dear you. Marvelous you.
You are accomplishing great things. GREAT, marvelous, amazing, incredible things.
And you’re not even trying to do it!
Can you imagine for a moment what would happen if you actually put your mind to it?
Just picture it for a minute – you have the ability to set goals and work towards something intentionally. Something ON PURPOSE.
You have the ability to control the direction of your progress. Guided by a God who loves you.
Life will come at you strong. It’s hard. But you have the ability now to train yourself to set and accomplish goals despite hard things.
Yes, goals are hard. Failure is hard. Not living up to your potential is hard. And sometimes it feels easier to ignore your potential.
Because if you ignore it, you can’t fail, right?
But here’s the thing…. Failure isn’t a stumbling block along the path. It IS the path. Failure is how we grow. It’s how we exert bravery.
It’s how we learn our limits and how to expand them. We learn what doesn’t work so we can be even more successful the next time.
Failure teaches us about ourselves. We learn about our weaknesses when we fail. We learn where we are unbelievably strong. We learn where we have strength beyond what we knew and where we can help others. And we learn where we need support. We learn whether we want to ask for help doing or help learning.
There is no shame in asking for help. We grow this way.
So don’t be afraid of progressing. Take control. Set goals. Set intention. Move forward with purpose. You are more capable than you realize.