I’ve been thinking a lot about failure lately. And I apologize in advance for this behemoth of post. When I started at BYU I had this picture of what I thought my life was going to look like by the time I graduated: married, med school bound, and living in a tiny apartment right off the freeway somewhere.
I’m now 24, unmarried, not a doctor, and living at my parents’–not at all what I thought my life would be at 24. When I first looked down the barrel of this new reality, I couldn’t help but think that I had failed in some way. For some reason, I decided that because I didn’t fit into this cookie-cutter mold I made for myself that this translated into failure.
So I’ve spent the last few months thinking about failure and what it really means. During Sacrament meeting yesterday, a brother in my ward talked about Tommy Caldwell. Caldwell is a free climber, meaning that he only uses his fingers and toes to scale rock faces. No climbing equipment is used aside from a safety rope to prevent substantial falling. Caldwell decided that he wanted to free climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. With 32 pitches, the Dawn Wall in considered one of the most difficult rock walls to scale. Caldwell tried several times to climb the wall, but failed on a number of occasions. When asked about his repeated failures, Caldwell responded by saying, “I’m not failing, I’m growing.” As soon as that sentence came across the podium, my whole vision changed. Similarly, Thomas Edison said something to the effect of “I didn’t fail; I found 200 ways not to make a light bulb.” Failure, or a change in plans as I’ve come to think of it, can be so instructive. I’ve learned how to accept rejection and not be so afraid of it. I’ve learned to pick myself up and try again, not matter how many times it takes. And I’ve learned to smile through it all. Failure can be so discouraging and exhausting. But slapping a smile on your face, even when you don’t feel like it, can make things seem just a little brighter. Marjorie Pay Hinckley said, “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.” And I have taken this little piece of advice to heart. Not that I don’t ever cry, because I totally do, but I try to smile as often as possible.
I also think failure is what you make of it. In her commencement address at Harvard University, JK Rowling said, “Ultimately, we have to decide for yourself what constitutes failure.” There is so much truth in this statement! So I stopped looking at jobs I didn’t get and programs I wasn’t accepted into as failures, but rather I looked at them as opportunities to try something different. So I didn’t go to medical school, but I have a close knit group of classmates because I was part of small program at BYU. I didn’t get a job straight out of college, but I did get to go to graduate school. Each time something didn’t work out I felt so defeated, like no matter how hard I was trying, nothing was going right and I couldn’t catch a break. It was in these moments of utter defeat that I learned perhaps the greatest lesson I have from failure: to rely solely on and trust in my Savior and Heavenly Father.
I completely trust the fact that God has a plan for me. A plan that is not an afterthought or something written in the margins of his heavenly notebook. My plan, like everyone else’s, was thought out, studied, and altered to best suit my spiritual and earthly progression. When I think about the twists and turns that have occurred in my life, I no longer see this string of failures like I used to. Rather, I see instances of divine inspiration and help as I find Heavenly Father’s plan. A plan, I am sure, that is much grander and much more fulfilling than mine is.
So the timing might be different and the circumstances so far from what you believed they would be, but I’m not sure it’s always failure. Yes, you might have to move back to your parents’ for a little while and you might have to take more standardized exams than you ever planned and you might have to interview for a million jobs, but these little “failures” and changes in direction are anything but failures. These diversions are opportunities to grow, to learn, and, most importantly, to make sure that you are pursuing the Lord’s plan and not just your own.
Failure is part of the plan. It’s part of being human and, I believe, is essential for our growth and, ultimately, for our success. I also believe that failure is not permanent. As long as we keep trying and moving forward, we cannot truly fail. So I’ll keep applying for a million jobs until I find the right one. But in the meantime, I won’t tally this situation as a failure. It’s a change in plans, that’s all.
“Don’t give up. Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead…It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.” –Jeffrey R. Holland