I don’t know if you were among the 103.4 million viewers who tuned in for the Super Bowl or not, but this year’s contest was a pretty exciting game. Spoiler alert: The Eagles beat the Patriots in a significant upset, especially when you looked at the two men leading their offenses. The Patriot’s QB has 5 Super Bowl rings to his name, while the Eagles QB didn’t even have a starting job when the 2017/2018 season began. In fact, a freak injury to the starter for the Eagles paved the way for this incredible upset victory.
Whether you care about football or not, Nick Foles, the QB for Philadelphia, gave a fantastic answer to how he’s dealt with the struggles of life, the disappointments of seeing opportunities pass you by, and the thrill of watching your dreams become reality. Take a minute to watch this two-minute clip that happened during his post-Super Bowl interview.
It seems like we live in a culture that really lives in fear of failure; a culture that actually runs from it. For example, I was thinking about how much sports participation has changed since I was a child, and one of the biggest challenges I have faced as a coach and parent is that so many programs are set up to eliminate failure. No, I’m not going to get into the debate about the psychology of winning and losing, I’m just observing that even in competitive sports, we’ve tried to replace the experience of losing with the experience of “winning.”
So now we have games without scores, everyone on the team gets a trophy (I’m watching this happen even at the high school level!), coaches aren’t allowed to correct improper technique during a game and everyone is required to play the same amount of minutes. In fact, I recently heard about a sports leagues where officials aren’t allowed to indicate which player committed a violation so that no one feels “singled-out” for mistakes.
This of course, extends beyond sports. College campuses have created “Safe Zones” where a person can be assured they won’t hear anything that seems offensive to their personal or moral standards. I know college profs who are strongly discouraged from flunking a student, regardless of the quality of work or lack of effort put in by the student. College students around the country (maybe around the world?) are demanding that grades be taken out of the hands of the teacher, and rather, should be assigned based on the self-evaluation of the student.
I wish these issues stopped with sports and academia, but they do not. A few years ago, a friend of mine who was in charge of hiring personnel for his business, told me a story about a young man who came in for an interview. This particular line of work required a more formal dress code and during the interview, a fresh-out-of-college candidate came in wearing jeans and a T-shirt. My friend conducted the interview and was frustrated by the candidates inability to answer basic questions (from my friend’s viewpoint based on the applicant’s resume and education), and that he regularly checked his text messages throughout the 20 minute interview.
My friend wrapped up the meeting and informed the young man that he would not be hired, and tried to explain a few things that might help develop the recent grad’s interview skills in the future. The young man was angry, and he expressed his disgust with the process and the outcome of the interview. Within a couple of hours, my buddy received a call from the young man’s mother who lambasted him for his incompetence as an interviewee and his total lack of appreciation for her son’s skillset. She threatened to escalate the call to my friend’s boss, the owner of the company, if he didn’t immediately change his hiring decision. My buddy gladly welcomed that phone call, and needless-to-say, the young man was never employed by his company.
Maybe you agree with the concept of non-losing sports events or with the mom who called an employer on behalf of her son. Honestly, I’m not debating the merit of either scenario. What I am trying to challenge is the idea that somehow protecting our children or parents or families or churches or schools or teams or communities or leaders or students from failure is productive. In fact, I’d argue that protecting people from failure is vastly counterproductive to creating the character we strongly desire to see them develop. Failure is fundamental to personal growth and development in every area of life. It’s not that we should wish failure upon the people we love, but we shouldn’t be so eager to try and erase it from their lives, either.
From businessmen to athletes, from stay-at-home mom bloggers to the high school janitor, ask anyone who has experienced any kind of success in life or vocation or relationship and they will tell you the same story: past failure played a role in their current “win.” A few years ago I read a business article where the author had interviewed multiple self-made millionaires and billionaires, and he was shocked to discover a unifying truth about each of them: they had all made significant business blunders and had experienced monumental business losses on their way to business success. Most of them had filed for bankruptcy, multiple times, before experiencing their big break. Most of them had lost more money than many people will make in their lifetimes. Regardless of the size of loss, however, each one chose to learn from their failures, and the character developed thru the hardship prepared them for future success.
I wonder how many of us are shielding our lives, and the lives of those we love, from failure, and ultimately, shielding them from character development they will need for future growth and success?
In Isaiah 48:10 we find that spiritual success runs a similar course: “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction…” Spiritual growth comes, not on the mountaintop experiences, but through the suffering and affliction that God allows into our lives. It is in the shadows of catastrophic loss, the wake of spiritual confession, or through the humility of a broken spirit that God does His refining work in our lives so that we can be made ready for the work He has set apart for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Shielding ourselves form loss or failure or consequences is ultimately shielding ourselves from the opportunity to grow.
James echoes this truth when he states, that we experience suffering and trials so that “…you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4). Almost all of us desire maturity and completeness as individuals, but few us desire the path we must take in order to experience life-changing growth. Clearly we must learn, as Nick Foles has learned, that failing is the pathway to victory; suffering is the route that leads to growth. God refines us in our brokenness, then gives us the healing to be who He wants us to be so that we can do, what He wants us to do.
Go ahead and take the plunge, life–even failure in life–is always better on the water!