“Failure is not an option.” For me, this is the most memorable quote from the movie Apollo 13 and not “Houston, we have a problem.” (Even though the real Jim Lovell said something slightly different!) You see, I walked out of this 1995 film a certified space geek. I was pretending that the car my grandparents had taken me to see it in was the Lunar Lander with all its Buick switches and the whole nine yards. And that “Failure is not an option” quote really stuck with me.
For the longest time I understood this to mean that success was the only reasonable outcome; that success was to be expected in all of my endeavors. And that anything but success wasn’t acceptable. But I have since come to a completely different understanding altogether. Now, that doesn’t mean that what Gene Kranz said was wrong! The Apollo 13 crew and Mission Control arguably failed, stumbled and fell a great deal; yet from those fails, stumbles and falls their ultimate success was created and built. It’s this that I ultimately realized; success and the things we excel at are built out of our mistakes and failures. It’s a concept that a friend of mine, Pastor Tim Brown recently wrote about and I’d like to share some of that with you this week too.
Tim is currently a Major Gift officer for the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Making phone calls to donors, making connections, and telling the story of the seminary is a featured part of his job now and yet he shares a fear that I hold too. That there is deep, embedded, and rather unfounded, fear that in making these cold calls to donors, we will be rejected on the other line. Nevertheless, fail hard and fail fast he tells himself, because to make the ask you have to risk the fail.
Now, you don’t take these risks wantonly nor do you take them without prep and planning. We aren’t trying to fail. But we must risk it, and so we ask, or open the door, or do any of the other things that require that risky and scary first step. We do so because we love this work, enjoy it and believe in it. Tim says that he’d rather be seen as a lunatic that risks life than a sane person who never lived for reasons that have become even more apparent as he has become a parent himself.
How important it is to let others, especially our kids, or those who look to you for leadership, see your own fear and trepidation, but then see you take that leap anyway. They, kids and others, need to know that I can fail, so that they know they too can fail. It makes the belief in the mantra at Tim’s house, “We can do the hard things,” a reality.
Honestly, I don’t think anyone enjoys doing the things they aren’t good at. We all, I think, have this falsifying pull to attempt at appearing perfect. But like Tim, I’m working on that. I don’t want you or anyone to fall into that trap of perfection and so we’ll fail hard and fail fast. We’ll build up a culture of failure, of making mistakes, of doing things we may not be good at with all our heart. Because out of that it means we’re going to be really good at something. We don’t need a whole generation, much less community, who feels they have to be perfect, but one that believes in good risks, worthy failures, honest falls and the resilience that comes from them. Fail hard and fail fast. Failure is most certainly an option. Take the risk. And then try again. You can do the hard things.
God’s Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Dave Elliott