Fail Forward

FAIL: “Be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal. Neglect to do something.”

Have you ever failed? It’s you and me here, don’t worry about it, I will tell everyone. I mean, wait, I won’t tell everyone. Yeah, that’s it. Sorry, I got confused. Ok, I’m kidding. I’ll go first.

When I was in graduate school, I had to learn 1,000 years of church history. That’s’ right…that is the correct number of zeros…one thousand years! It bears mentioning that at this point in my life I had raging ADHD and was undiagnosed. It also bears mentioning that I would later learn that people with ADHD often struggle with history memorization. Bullseye. That would be me.

I created a visual timeline of a 1,000 years of church history on a very long, long, long piece of construction paper with a friend. The more we put on it the worse I felt. The more events we discussed the more I knew I would not remember them. When we finished and I stood up from the floor and looked down on the timeline, I knew it. I was about to succeed in failing!

FORWARD: “In the direction that one is facing or traveling, toward the front. Onward so as to make progress; toward a successful conclusion.”

I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who will NOT sit in a test for 3 hours to see if all the answers come to me. Nope. I give it 15 minutes. If they aren’t there by then, I am out. And so, I did everything I could, but 1,000 years covers a lot of answers and takes way longer than 15 minutes to recall so I left. And I failed. Gloriously. I made a ‘D’ in the class. In graduate school, you can’t make below a ‘C’. Therefore, I failed twice. I got below a ‘C’ which is essentially failing in the eyes of the school and…wait for it…I couldn’t even successfully earn an ‘F’!

Failure is certain. Success is for those who fail forward. Don’t believe me? Thomas. Edison. He changed the entire planet to this day. I am typing these words on a laptop that has harnessed the power of electricity to illuminate my computer screen while sitting in a room with a chandelier above me that is bathing the room in light. This is made possible because Edison failed forward. He found 99 ways that didn’t work, paraphrase, and the one that did work sealed the deal. Humanity is forever indebted to his tenacity.

 What is failing forward? I say it’s a few things. First, regroup. This akin to getting up and cleaning off our scraped knees. Second, reorient. In boxing, one must move one’s head in order to not feel bad. If I moved my head to the right and it met a boxing glove, I know now that the next time I should move my head left. Same idea here. If what I did kept me from success, then let’s not do that one again. Last, reapply. Think sunscreen. If you put sunscreen on before you go out into the sun, you will have a great chance of not being burnt. If you faithfully reapply your sunscreen, you increase your chances of not getting burnt. Regroup. The water has washed away my sunscreen. Reorient. Grab the bottle. Reapply. Put more on.

As peers, we are all too familiar with failure, real or imagined. Mental health “failure”. Addiction “failure”. As PRS’s, we have the privilege to walk alongside other peers who may have tasted the bitterness of failure. We can support  them and help them learn to fail forward. It’s not the failing that is so bad, it is the not getting back up that seals the deal. 

Let me encourage you: Think of one moment in your life where you succeeded in failing. What happened? What could’ve been done differently? What went right? What went wrong? Most importantly, what lesson(s) did you learn about this moment of failure. How can your experience of failure help another peer who is struggling with failing forward? Believe it or not, people are often encouraged and their passion reignited when they hear a similar story in someone eles’s life and see that the phoenix does rise from the ashes. 

**By the way, I retook the class with a different professor who required that I write 7 papers. I did. I got an A. That was in 2,001. I celebrate 22 years of having my Masters degree this year. I failed forward. You can too! 





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The Virginia Peer Recovery Specialist Network is a program of Mental Health America of Virginia.

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