Failure is Always an Option

A friend of mine from college  speaks around the world on the future of humanity, society, technology, and Christianity; once before he spoke at a TEDx event in the Cayman Islands, he put out a piece of advice that helps him before he gets up to speak to a large crowd: failure is always an option. At the time, I was in the rush of diocese requirements for ordination, finishing my last year of master’s degree, and preparing to move away from Texas, and hearing that failure is always an option was disorienting enough that I stopped and took a deep breath for the first time in a long time.

Much of my life at that time alternated between checking my Google calendar every 20 minutes to make sure I was on task and panicking about all the ways in which these big, important life moves could fall through. Having one of my biggest fears presented before me in a five word sentence was shocking; it was also incredibly liberating.

Not that it gave me freedom to suddenly start tanking my classes and shirking responsibilities, but it freed me from the illusion that I could somehow control whether or not failure was possible. Failure is always an option, because to try anything risks it falling through.

We cannot, no matter how much we might like to try, force failure from the potential outcomes of doing anything worthwhile. We could hold on to the illusion that somehow we are smart enough, or strong enough, or lucky enough that failure won’t happen to us, but this would only put our energy into maintaining this false belief.

At the time I was spending so much of my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual energy on obsessively trying to avoid failure that I forgot what I was trying to accomplish in the first place. After getting over the shock of the bluntness with which failure was presented, I was able to remember why I wanted to become a priest and how the diocesan process played into the formation for this vocation and I was able to remember why theological education was important (and fun!) for me, and then the weight of a potential failure didn’t feel so heavy, because I knew that accomplishing goals wasn’t the only way to benefit from following the things that I love.

Whether it’s our academic studies, our passions, or our hobbies, failure is an option, and once we can acknowledge that,  we are free to throw our entire selves into the things we love. The only way to do the things we love is with abandon, and while failure may always be an option, let us never let that stop us from trying.

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