The Blessing of Failure
Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. However, the basketball great has this to say: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life.”
Indeed, Jordan’s career has involved a lot of failings. However, Jordan is no failure. The quote doesn’t stop there. Jordan concludes with this: “I’ve failed over and over in my life . . . and that is why I succeed.”
A few thousand years earlier, the prophet Micah said, “Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” The Sages make a slight change to the verse in order to explain to us what Micah really meant: “Because I have fallen, I will rise. Because I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.” Like the athlete, the prophet recognized that success doesn’t just follow failure; success comes because of our many failings.
This was a powerful message for the children of Israel as Micah warned that they were about to find themselves in very difficult times. It was inevitable. The nation had become irreparably corrupt. The nation that had been instructed to become a light unto the nations had become dark and murky.
Israel had a mission, and she utterly failed. But that was not the end of her story. Micah warned the enemies of Israel not to gloat. Because Israel’s failure would be the secret of her success.
Many years of exile followed. Part of Israel returned to her homeland only to be exiled once more. Thousands of years of persecution and oppression dominated the nation’s experience. She would fall many times over and remain in darkness for many years.
Yet, in those difficult moments, she would find God. In the clutches of evil, she would understand goodness. Exile was not just a punishment for Israel; it was her education. Israel emerged stronger, better, and ready to fulfill the role that is her destiny.
We live in a society that worships success, but hates failure. The problem is that you can’t have one without another. As the accomplished trumpet player Wynton Marsalis put it, “If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying.” You can’t reach success without travelling the road of failure.
With each mistake made, the question should be, “What can we learn from this failure?” and then use that knowledge to celebrate success.