Three Steps for How to Fail Successfully

Doug Bender

August 31, 2023 | 3 minute read

The world fixates on success stories and triumphant achievements. Just look back at this summer’s big blockbusters. Nobody made a movie about Indiana Jones not finding a treasure or about a group of scientists who wanted to build an atomic bomb but were beaten by Oppenheimer’s team. And even the one movie that attempted to celebrate a measure of imperfection did so at the cost of draining the world’s supply of pink paint. (True story.) Barbie, it turns out, still needed the perfect aesthetic. 

“Failure is not an option,” the saying goes. And most of us will do just about anything to avoid the feelings associated with failure. We hide our failures so no one else will see them. We dress them up as successes instead of admitting to them. Worse, we often simply blame someone else for them.

Our problem, though, is not with failure but our failure to fail well. So how do you fail successfully? 

Step 1: Embrace the Reality of Failure

Failure is not just an option; it’s inevitable. Humans fail. That’s not necessarily even a moral statement. Long before humans ever learned how do evil, we still failed at things. Think back to the very first story in the Bible, if you’re familiar with it. The first man, Adam, attempted something. Specifically, he searched the entire animal kingdom for a suitable mate. But he failed! He attempted something and he did not succeed. This shows us that failure is not, by itself, a bad thing.  

Failure is a normal part of the human experience. Embracing failure means we recognize our limitations as created beings. We do not have all the knowledge or ability, which means, even at our best, we can’t succeed at everything. Failure will happen. Embracing failure as a fact of life can give you a sense of freedom. This truth can help you understand that it’s okay to fail! Don’t aim for it, but don’t be surprised when you run smack into it. 

Step 2: Reframe Failure as a Catalyst for Change

Failure tells us that change is needed and motivates us to aim for that change. This sort of feedback is rarely pleasant. I’m sure you hated the last time your teacher marked down a paper or your boss told you to redo a project. Even our emotions kick in their measure of corrective energy – just think about the jolt of adrenaline you feel in your gut when you think about something dumb that you did in the past.

Admitting to and accepting our past failures can motivate us to avoid them in the future. More than that, our failures can inspire us to help others avoid those failures, too. I recently rewatched the Joshua Broome film, where Joshua tells of his time in the porn industry. He sees this part of his past as a series of bad decisions and failures. But these experiences now serve as motivation for a new and purposeful future. Without these past failures, he would not likely be the outspoken advocate for healthy sexuality that he is today. 

Step 3: Assess and Learn

The hardest part of failing well can be the assessment stage. Once you have embraced that failure happens and decide you want to make a change, you then must actually examine your failure to see what steps you need to take in the future. This often means doing things like asking loved ones for honest feedback or trusting someone enough to listen to their advice. 

As you assess, you may also learn that God’s plans are different from your plans. Your failure to achieve something may be God revealing a totally different plan for your life. The newly released Gilberto Corredera film describes a Cuban immigrant who was sure God had big plans for him in the US, only to realize the only job he could land was as a dishwasher. His failure, it turns out, was in not recognizing the lessons God wanted him to learn as a dishwasher. But those lessons actually propelled him to God’s true vision for his life later on.

Whatever failure happens to be in your past, God wants to use them to direct and inspire your future. You don’t have to let your failures drag you down into guilt and self-doubt. Instead, realize that failure is a normal part of life and something God intentionally allows us to experience. He does this because he has big plans for you. But those plans, more often than not, will run into some challenges, trials, difficulties and, yes, failure.

Doug Bender

Doug Bender

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer and small groups coach. He developed many of the small group tools found at and has coached churches, organizations, and individuals to use I Am Second groups to share the message of Jesus with their friends and family. He also works with I Am Second's parent organization, e3 Partners, as a church planter and pastor in countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and the US. Doug and his wife, Catherine, have four children: Bethany, Samuel, Isabella, and Jesse.

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