Let’s talk about FAILURE


I’m currently in rainy Melbourne having just shared at the Surrender Conference. I was given the privilege to lead three sessions at the conference and then to share about the conference on ABC radio tonight (tune in to Sunday nights with John Cleary to hear my tired voice)

So what did I share? Well I started with one of my favourite blog topics “how do we stop just trying to ‘care for the poor’ and start trying to ‘love our neighbour'” (more on that HERE) and then launched into my favourite diatribe about “the problem with ‘sexy-volunteering‘” (my husband, James, thinks I should just get this one on a t-shirt and save my breath) but my third talk I wanted to focus on failure.

Conferences like Surrender can be inspiring places.  One thing I love about them is how they can inspire some real out-of-the-box thinking; which is exactly what we need in community ministry.

The hard thing, about really innovative social enterprises and collective actions is that they have an 80% fail rate.  True story.  It does depend a little on how you define failure but anyway you look at it it isn’t a great strike rate.

And this sense of failure can be doubly hard at events like Surrender when all you hear about are they incredible successes others are having. In someways these success stories be really inspiring but they can also magnify our sense of inadequacy in our own work.

One of my favourite TED talks is by a guy called Myshkin Ingawale.  Myshkin saw a need to create some technology to test for anemia because the tests available at the time were invasive and slow and so people were dying unnecessarily.  He says, “I saw this need and so you know what I did- I made it”.  And the whole TED crowd burst into spontaneous applause and when the applause had died away Myshkin quietly says, “and it didn’t work… and so I made it 32 more times and then it worked.”  

And that’s the truth about me and the truth about Community Development more broadly.  For every successful story you hear there will be 8 (or perhaps 32) others that did not meet the mark.  

How do we deal with that? How are we okay with that?  How do we keep the momentum and the energy to keep going forward in the face of those 32 failed attempts? How do we tell those stories?  

Because the truth of the matter is that we all have and will continue to fail. I believe that failure is not only okay but that that is very very good. We have to learn how to fail, fail well, fail often and to talk about our failures.

We have the amazing opportunity to partner with God in reclaiming the beauty of the people in our community. But God’s way of partnering is inclusive, is participatory. Therefore our ways should also be inclusive and participatory. But participation is a messy and complicated works. It’s involves a lot of stumbling and fumbling and… yes failing.

Nobody ever learned much from constant success. And I’m not just talking about needing to fail in the way I might say “make the best of a bad situation”. I think failure is far more important than that. In fact I think it can even be something that is planned and celebrated.

But we’re so scared of failure. If, as a Church, we fail- how does this reflect on us, on our prayer lives and our devotion- worse that that- how does this reflect on GOD! And this crippling fear of failure completely stifles our creativity.

Complex social problems are not going to be overcome by the same reasoning that created them and so in order to overcome complex issues we have got to CREATE and to create is to make something that has never existed before- and you simply can not do that without failure! If you’re not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Robert Kennedy

So I want to encourage you to go out there and to be bravely creative- to try greatly and to fail greatly.

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