I’ve been thinking recently about failure. Mainly it is because I’ve just jumped off the cliff of a big project that I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time, but have put off again and again. Sound familiar to anyone else out there?
I’ve wanted to write a book for almost ten years now. In fact when I stopped pastoring churches after the kids came to us, one of my main thoughts was, “Great, now I’ll have time to write a devotional.” Only a thousand diapers, hundreds of goldfish, and most of the elementary school career of my children later have I finally gotten around to writing and releasing an Advent devotional. Why the long delay?
Well, I could run down a list of excuses that include how busy I am raising children, how we’ve cared for sick and aging parents, how I’ve volunteered at church, and taught yoga. But the honest truth is that I didn’t start trying to write publicly earlier because I was afraid. Afraid of several things, but mainly I was afraid that I would fail.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist you see, and fear of failure can paralyze a perfectionist like nothing else.
I would begin to think about writing and then I would second guess my topic. Then I would write and second guess in what format I wanted to share my work. Should I self-publish or go through the gauntlet of the traditional publishing world? Even simple decisions like cover design or font type could start to bog me down. I worry and worry if something will be just right until I’m totally stuck in a very wrong mess of inaction.
Until one day something gave me a nudge. It was actually a story Bob Goff told in his book Love Does. Let me just say that if you haven’t read this book, do yourself a favor and check Bob and his collection of stories/parables out. Absolutely delightful. The one story that struck me so deeply was that of his son’s ten-year-old adventure. As was his tradition when his children entered their second decade, Bob let his youngest choose a trip or activity with which they would mark the right of passage. The youngest boy, being a bit of a daredevil, chose to go motorcycle riding in the desert. Bob amazingly says, “okay, let’s do it.” While they are out riding in the dunes, Bob sees his son race up to the top of a particularly high dune and then sail off the top in an attempt to fly over to land on the next height. Bob seeing the risk, bikes over to his son only to reach him face down in the sand. Bob asks his boy if he is okay and the dude replies, “Yeah, that was AWESOME.” Seeing his son’s face, Bob smiles and agrees that yeah, it kind of was.
This story undid me. First of all, I couldn’t believe the kid (or the dad) would take such a risk. But then to just embrace the failure of getting a face full of dirt?
Could failure really and truly be awesome?
I decided that maybe it was time to find out. For surely landing face down in the sand is better than never having the guts to take the leap at all.
Not that getting moving after having been stuck for so long is easy. I still spend too many hours debating small details that probably don’t matter much in the end. But at least I’m off the sidelines and on my bike. There’s movement, no matter how stop and go it may be. And it turns out movement feels pretty nice.
As I’ve watched the book launch and tried not to obsess over sales numbers or reviews, I’ve remembered a question someone asked me recently. What does success look like to you? I’ve decided that for me, success doesn’t depend on turning a profit or hitting a certain number of sales. In this moment, success for me looks like taking the risk to put myself out there in the first place. Even if I land face down in the dirt, for a moment there will have been flight. And that is awesome.