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  • Writer's pictureMark Alan Williams

How To Be Smarter About Failure In Life

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In 2010 I was named Alumnus of the Year at Moody Bible Institute. It was a wonderful honor. But one of the thoughts that kept going through my mind was when I failed one of the required courses as a student and almost didn’t graduate!

I thought I had studied hard enough for the midterm in theology, but I did poorly. Thus, I shrugged off the final exam and opted to take whatever low grade I got.

The problem was my score was so low, it dropped my entire grade for the class to failing.

Since I was only one semester from hopeful graduation, I began to sweat bullets. The academic counsellor said the class was not being offered in my last semester.

I was terribly embarrassed and ashamed. I felt like a total failure!

Thankfully, there was one other option. Fort Wayne Bible College offered an equivalent correspondence course. If I repeated the class (with all the extra work of course) and completed it on time, I could graduate.

So I swallowed my pride, dove in to the extra class, finished and passed in time to graduate with my fellow classmates.

Through it all, I learned  some important lessons about how to be smarter about failure:

01. We must harness the immense power in persistence.

“We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up.” (Hebrews 12:1b GW)

Some people say that I am bull-doggedly persistent. I say persistence is one of the reasons I have been able to keep going and accomplish things, sometimes despite immense obstacles.

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.” (1 Corinthians 15:58a)

In the early days of Dynamic Church Planting International we could often barely scrape together 10 church planters to train. Today we train thousands each year from every inhabited continent and over 100 nations.

How has this come to pass? One key factor has been godly persistence.

USA President Calvin Coolidge said it well:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

“Therefore we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

02. We must see failures and setbacks as helpful lessons instead of as terrible endings.

Despite beatings, imprisonments, starvation and much more, the Apostle Paul learned lessons and moved on. When he was in need and experiencing hunger, he learned lessons about contentment: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)

Can you name this person?

  • He was dismissed from a school in Munich because he lacked interest in his studies. But he did not give up.

  • He failed to pass an examination for entrance to a polytechnic school in Zurich. But he did not give up.

  • He later applied for an assistantship in teaching but was rejected. But he did not give up.He did become a tutor for boys in a Zurich boardinghouse, but was soon fired. But he did not give up.

These facts are from the life of Albert Einstein. He refused to give up and today his name is a household word and a synonym for genius. What did he do when he bumped up against failures? He learned lessons and moved on.

Carole Hyatt, co-author of When Smart People Fail, says that the way to distinguish between smart people and stupid people is that smart people move on after a failure, job loss, rejection or embarrassment. But stupid people get stuck and say, “Failure is the only option for me.” Smart people look at what went wrong and correct it.

03. We must review goals regularly and revise them when necessary

In Acts 13:44-52 we read how the Apostle Paul’s preaching about salvation through Christ was rejected by Jews. So Paul made a strategic adjustment. Instead of just giving up, he “shook the dust off his feet” and became the Apostle to the Gentiles (see Ephesians 3:8).

Is there ever a time to reevaluate and perhaps move on? Yes, certainly. That is an important part of the success process.

Usually changing circumstances should be a signal to pivot instead of quit.

To pivot is to adjust based on barriers or pressures. Pivoting means not giving up, just trying a different angle.

Someone wisely said, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” How’s that for profound!

The wisdom of that statement is that we learn as we go, and what we thought was true and right might turn out to be wrong. So as we learn, we adjust or pivot with the changing reality.

Kodak was famous for manufacturing cameras and the film used in them. Immense money was earned in the business. But then came digital photography. It was time to pivot. In fact, survivability sometimes depends on adjusting. With a pivot and revised goals, more millions could be made by Kodak.

This website ( is a reflection of changing realities. In my early ministry, nothing like the internet existed. Then things changed dramatically. Eventually God led me to begin to utilize this newest tool for ministry.

I haven’t given up my ministry vision. But I have pivoted to take advantage of a newer tool for getting the job done.

  • Quit? NEVER!

  • Pivot? ABSOLUTELY!

We don’t know what tomorrow holds, therefore hold tomorrow lightly and pivot. We must acknowledge that situations change, yet God is ultimately still in control.

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15 ESV)

So these are some of the lessons I’ve learned about being smarter about failure. The biggest lesson is capsulized in these verses: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV)

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