I'm not an expert at how to handle failure, but I am aware of how fear of failure has kept me from trying new things or move past my comfort zone. The subject came up while driving home with a small contingent of Korean girls from a beginning of the Michigan State University year international student welcome party in a big barn. Even though it was hard to understand and be understood (on both my part and theirs) we tackled the subject with as much depth as possible. We have been friends for the better part of 4 months and ready to have more meaningful conversations.
We had just participated in a fun and informal volleyball game at the party way past dark. My friends were not used to joining in this kind of game and pretty much avoided it until a much loved American friend encouraged them to try after the picnic. Afterwards, on the way home, one of the girls commented that she thought I did well in playing the game. Actually, she should have seen me 25 years ago. I was a little better back then. So, my response was "I am getting old" which prompted much laughter in the car. Even though we were playing just for fun and not keeping score, I pondered in my heart how competancy was on the minds of everyone involved from the beginners to old fools like me. We all want to look good.
Finally, one of the girls started searching for an English word. It was hard, because it came with huge emotional connotations of shame. After several tries, she said, "Forget it, it's okay." I helped her out--"Failure?" I asked. She was quiet, and it was dark in the car so I couldn't see her facial expression. The word floated in the air like a bad smell. I told her about my supervisor when I started working as a barista who said that everyone makes mistakes and that I needed to "get over it". She laughed and said that she wanted to have a supervisor like that one. I said that my supervisor was getting tired of hearing me lament over every little thing that fell short.
I shared how Americans usually use the term "It was a learning experience" a lot and it really means "I messed up" and the Korean girls found this hilarious. I told them that American bosses like to hear this because it means that you know what happened, why it happened and how not to let it happen again. One of my friends commented that failure means you actually tried. I agreed with her wholeheartedly.
But it didn't stop me from kicking myself all night into this morning about mistakes and a memory lapses that kept haunting me from the previous evening's party. I saw many people I recognized from previous years and couldn't remember exactly how I knew them. I am very proud of my recall abilities, but now I think I have over reached my capacity. I got names and faces wrong and it bugs me to no end. In some cases, I worried if I hurt some people's feelings. In some cases, I worried if there was something wrong with my brain.
Like my physical self, my mental self has seen better days. However, when I was 21 years old, if I swam four laps in a pool, it was a huge acheivement. Now, at 48, I easily swim three times that and if I want to, a mile is achievable. Mentally, my memory may blur a lot, but I think my ability to comprehend "the big picture" of any meaningful thing I do is so much clearer than when I was a young whipper snapper. In other words, I no longer sprint so well, but I have enough endurance for what I need.
In the meantime, it's okay to slow down and begin to appreciate how many people from all over the world God has brought to me. I am human and weak and forget too many wonderful experiences with wonderful friends. But God is God and He is strong and His memory is infinite. My finite being that fails--I am a jar of clay--holds within a precious and glorious treasure. Jesus.
And that's the best way I know of about how to handle failure.
"We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." 1 Corinthians 4:7-8 NLT
"My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever." Psalm 73:26 NLT