The Virtue of Failure
Becoming a better leader through mistakes, failure and loss
Renowned Author and speaker Tony Campolo has often drawn attention to a survey of people over the age of ninety-five. The survey asked just one very simple question “If you had to live over again, what would you do differently?”
Of all the perspectives from which to view life this must be the most profound. Of all demographics there cannot be a group who are more keenly and reflectively aware of the limits of life. And at ninety-five there is no other way to see one’s life except in hindsight; and hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20.
I imagine we could all confidently predict the kind of answers that were given in the survey: More time spent with family; less focus on worries; more time spent enjoying life; less attention to material gain etc. etc. But the most common answer given is striking and unexpected.
“I wish I had risked more.”
The survey found that, at the end of life, the most common reflection is not regret at mistakes made but for opportunities missed through playing it safe. It’s a very counter-intuitive observation. We might expect a life well lived to be one in which mistakes are minimised and successes maximised. Yet the survey respondents wished instead that they had given themselves more opportunities to mess it all up and fail.
Put another way; it is not failure that threatens to limit our existence but rather the fear of failure.
As Campolo rightly observed, the implications of this observation, as limited as his survey might have been (the sample was only 50 people), are hugely important for those who are interested in questions about the good life.
We all want to succeed and yet if we are honest and we know ourselves, do we not already know that all of life’s treasures are found on the other side of the pain of failure? We do not learn and grow much in the ecstasy of personal success and renown. It may feel wonderful, but we all know that unchecked, this kind of unmitigated success is really quite bad for us. No, as hard as it may be to stomach, access to our full potential is only reached through the gut-wrenching, cringe-inducing path of screwing things up.
This truth strikes fairly close to the beating heart of the Christian life. The New Testament is crammed full with allusions to God’s desire to walk with us into our mistakes, rejections and losses. As St Paul says, ‘When I am weak he is strong’, His power, he says, ‘is perfected in weakness’.
As the medieval mystic and Julian of Norwich said, “First there is the fall and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God.” Here we also find the answer to my most persistent childhood Sunday school question “what is so good about Good Friday?”
This month at CHOW we will hear from two speakers and a musician who will help us to think more keenly about the many strands of this theme. Their talks and music will include reflections on the theme of ‘The Virtue of Failure’ from the perspective of work, politics, womanhood, public life and spirituality.
Our speakers are Kristina Moore, Deputy for St Peter and Minister for Home Affairs. And Michelle Johansen, Coach, Consultant and Founder of the Woman’s Development Forum. And Liz Shea, one of Jersey’s most talented singer- songwriters will be providing our soundtrack.
As is our custom, our two speakers will be employing the Pecha Kucha speaking format and then we’ll be looking to you to provide questions, thoughts and reflections after time in discussion with your tablemates.
Join us for a delicious lunch by The Daily Grind and the chance to take part in the bursting and dispelling of some our business community’s most persistent myths about the nature of success failure and life.
We hope to see you in Church House from 1-2pm.
Please note that you must register to attend CHOW. If you do not register we cannot guarantee you a seat at the event. Please reserve your place here