the shape of leadership

Embracing Failure

Five lessons for young adults

Kent Ingle on April 3, 2023

I failed.” Those two words are critical, but we hardly ever hear them. There’s a perception that failure is a sign of weakness, not being good enough, or a lack of ability. We can often focus so much on one’s success that we jump over the not-so-easy path that led to it.

In a recent email survey, I asked young adults what they were the most afraid of in life. Failure ranked No. 1 — beating out not having enough money or being alone.

Many young people shared that it’s a topic they want leaders to discuss more candidly. They expressed a desire to know how failure sharpened a leader, what they learned from it, and how they mustered up the courage to work through it.

For many young adults, failure can range from making the wrong decision, not succeeding in their careers, or an inability to attain their goals.

But failure is a normal part of life, and it’s vital we discuss the knowledge we gained from making mistakes.

Below are five lessons on failure to share with young adults.


Failure isn’t Fatal

Difficulties should never make young adults feel defeated. When something doesn’t work out, there’s a challenge encountered, or expectations aren’t met, it’s imperative they don’t give up. Instead, adversity should propel them forward.

By not meeting expectations, young adults may feel insufficient. It’s easy to assume they aren’t cut out for the job or even what God has called them to do.

Failure doesn’t always mean God is closing a door in their lives, rather He could be using it to sharpen their skills, develop who they are, or use it to prepare them for the future.

The Bible encourages us to continue to be confident in what God has called us to even through difficulties.

Hebrews 10:35-36 says, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.”

We can encourage young adults to redirect their attention from feelings of discouragement to recognizing the lessons learned. A failure or mistake should be seen as an experience gained.


Failure is Essential for Success

The process of making mistakes and overcoming mishaps allows young adults to improve and develop their skills. Instead of viewing failure as a roadblock, we must help them see it as a change in direction or a necessary hurdle to conquer.

Like an academic setting, failure teaches the importance of learning to solve problems, discover answers, and ask for guidance.

One study conducted by a team of educators in Toronto found that students who guessed answers for a test and received feedback outperformed their peers who just memorized information and got the answers right.

The Bible encourages
us to continue to be confident in what God has called us to even through difficulties.

Recognizing, reflecting, and understanding why failure happened is critical to moving toward success.

The Bible reminds us how important learning is for our growth. Ecclesiastes 10:10 says, “If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success.”

Making mistakes teaches young adults what they can do better, it requires them to step out and discover solutions for improvement and leads to breakthroughs to a new level of growth in their lives.


Failure Develops Character

Young adults learn a lot about themselves when they encounter difficulties. Challenges reveal how they react to opposition. Some of the best traits they build upon are perseverance, humility, and honesty.

Strong character isn’t developed by avoiding failure. Difficulties teach young adults to be persistent in the face of adversity and how to embrace humility when they are wrong.

Failure can inspire positive change within the lives of young adults and force them out of their comfort zones. It keeps their egos in check and humbles them as they seek to improve, discover new answers, and learn to accept other ideas.

The letdowns young adults experience can become turnarounds for sowing seeds of growth. They’re reminded of the importance in relying on God’s strength rather than their own. And God’s strength can give them the courage to overcome any obstacle they face.

As Jeremiah 17:7 says, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.”


Failure Teaches Ownership

When those older and wiser make decisions for young people, it may increase their chance of avoiding failure, but it decreases the possibility they will be prepared to make their way successfully in life. It fosters dependence rather than independence.

By making decisions, young adults learn to act with courage, conviction, and clarity. They understand what it means to fail and succeed, to say yes and to say no, and to reflect and act. As young adults make decisions, they can ask God for guidance and wisdom according to James 1:5.

Failure should provide an example of how young adults can recognize their mistakes and embrace change within their lives and habits for the better.


Failure isn’t Tied to Self-Worth

Failure can often deplete one’s self-esteem. Instead of seeing a decision as a mistake, young adults can start to assume they are the reason something failed.

A young adult should analyze the situation to see what led to the failure, so they recognize how to avoid it in the future. Reflection can teach how to separate oneself from the situation.

When young adults tie self-worth to their failures, it leads to a lack of confidence. They begin to feel not good enough. This can lead to a lack of motivation and determination to keep moving forward to accomplish their goals.

Young adults must recognize their self-worth is found in Christ. Galatians 3:26 reminds them they are a child of God by their faith in Christ. Once they do, it will enable them to influence the outcomes of their situations, rather than the results influencing them.

As we guide young adults through failure, it’s vital to share our experiences with them, providing wisdom and examples of learning.

When a young person makes a mistake, encourage them to reflect on what happened and see it as a learning experience. After all, failure can be integral in helping cultivate what God has for their lives.

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