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Failure – the key to success?

Failure they say is the key to success. We’ve all heard the inspiring quotes that failure is part of the journey to success; Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently – but is this really is true.

I have been brought up to believe that you should always aim for the sky, according to my grandmother that means if you do fall you will not fall too low. It is difficult to come to terms with failing when there is an expectation especially from family members that you have and will always win or be top of the class. The drawback of this is that your ability to deal with failure became arrested from early childhood development.  My first experience of failure probably started when I left my secure village life in Jamaica and was thrown into a girl’s boarding school (at the expense of passing my 11 plus exam) in a nearby but bigger town where I studied alongside girls who were far more brighter and where I was no longer the talk of the village or top of the class.  This was coupled with accommodation issues  (still happening today)  as I was a day girl and then later transferred to a high school  near Kingston leaving all my close friends behind (one in particular) to a co-educational school which was a major shock!  My only refuge was to emerge myself into the Inter-School Christian Fellowship, cookery classes and a crush on my then Spanish Teacher. Incidentally, some of my best friends are now from this school but back then my whole world was turned upside down. This was followed later with death of my grandmother causing even more upset and later migration to the UK, married at age 20, followed by divorce 3 years later, disruption in my career as a result of redundancies and the list goes on. Whatever happened to the Karen Roach who was conditioned to win?

It really dawned on me that I had a problem with failing when I sat in the office of my Spirituality tutor at the London School of Theology at age 37 and cried because I got 40% for my spirituality essay. This was not on! He must have made a mistake because Karen Roach has never got 40% in her life! Even though he convinced me over and over again that I had passed, this was unbelievable and I felt I’ve let everyone down including the expectation that my family had placed on me and it felt I was wasting my time at bible college in not succeeding. How could my tutor not understand? I did everything from then on to make sure my essays and all my work at LST was at least a 2:1 grade but my Mom’s death and other life circumstances caused a lot of upheaval and when I received my final grade a 2:2, I almost died. This was again unbelievable! My thesis was a disaster ‘The Culture of Church and the implications in enabling change’ – an difficult if not impossible task in itself. It took me probably a year to display my graduation photo and my certificate on my wall as I felt it signify not success but failure. For a while, I harboured not very happy memories and words about LST  as I thought Bible College reduced me to a level of incompetency even though my friends encouraged me that it was not about the mark.  Probably that was God’s doing to teaching me through the three years at LST that life is not only about winning but in learning through our failures.

I have come a long way from my days at LST and the last time I was living in my house  I proudly displayed on my wall my graduation photos and certificates alongside my marathon and other race medals.

A few weeks ago I decided to attempt a park run in Kingston. I was suffering from stiffness in the Iliotibial band (common in runners) but decided to run anyway. At the start they pointed out a gentleman who would be running at the back to help the straddlers or new comers. I honestly thought I would be running with him because I was in pain. At times I was running in a position where I was 3 people from the back and other times I was running with this gentleman. We had a good chat about running and at times I had to stop and walk due to the pain and he was very empathetic. To cut a long story short I came in last – okay he kindly let me go ahead of him, so second to last. I finished with a sprint, my hands in the air and the whole crowd cheering. It was a one of the proudest moment in my life. I came in last technically but with great joy, celebrating at the end. I even got a voucher towards a new pair of trainers! For failing? I hear you say. God does not ask us to win but to lean on his strength and trust him all circumstances. In Paul’s letter to Hebrews he encouraged them to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.(Hebrews 1-2a)

Michael Jordan the former American professional basketballplayer states;

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”

This reminds me of  a photo of a pickaxe and broken stones that was shared with me on Facebook with the caption ‘Courage+Endurance+Faithfulness=Reward and the following statement  When nothing seems too help, look at a stone cutter hammering away at a his rock, perhaps 100 times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the 101st blow it split into two. It wasn’t the last blow that did it, but all the blows that have gone before.’ [Jacob Riis]

 Abraham Lincoln was reared in a poor family and was mostly self-educated. He became the 16th President of the United States who successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – The American Civil war – preserving the union whilst ending slavery and promoting economic and financial modernization. He states “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. “

 Woody Allenaward-winning American screenwriter, director, actor, comedian, author, and playwright, whose career spans over half a century said “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative” 

Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson an English business magnate, best known for his Virgin Group of more than 400 companies has lost far more money that most people earn in their entire lives, and yet he is one of the richest people on earth. He is not shy about talking about his failures, in fact you get the impression he enjoys it. In one of his most recent books ‘ Losing My Virginity: The Autobiography’ (interesting title for a book) he talks about his ability to take risks. Richard Branson has tried many different things in his life. He has failed a lot. He has lost millions upon millions, if not billions, over the years. Many people would have given up along the way. But he hasn’t allowed his failures to stop him from trying again. He has learnt from his mistakes and gone on to be extremely successful. It is his willingness to give things a go that has seen him succeed. He sees his failures as a step to success. The two are inseparable he says and you can generally learn more from the failures! In his willingness to take risks his failures has become an essential part of his success story.

We do not set out to deliberately fail, neither am I encouraging you to accept failure as the first option, but to deal with it if it comes along with grace, realising that we are limited in all that we do and it is God who grant us the favour of success and this will mostly come through many failures.

Paul in recognising this state in 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10 (The Message version)

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need. 
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

Incidentally, I am presently doing a course ‘Exploring Spirituality’ and one of the assignments which is due in June is to read a spiritual classic and write an essay as I was asked to do in my spirituality class at LST  during my first year. I laughed and shared my experience then of getting 40%. I am not going to aim for higher as the old Karen would do just to prove a point. I am going to read this classic (probably ‘The Cloud of the Unknowing’) and reflect on what the book has to teach me about my relationship with God and what insight I have gained concerning spirituality. This is not a test and one to be beaten!

After my race at Kingston park run I must confess I had all the thoughts of going back and beating my time. I am proud to say I have not been back mainly because I was suffering from injury but I also feel there is no need to prove anything. God has already made to be a winner through his strength and no matter what life circumstances throws at me; I’m assured that the battle is already won in Christ Jesus! Amen!

So thank you Chris Jack for my spirituality essay mark and for re-marking my dissertation! That was a hard but vital lesson in learning to deal with failure – the stepping stone towards success – the mother of success! I’m proud to day to say that I am still practicing!

Qoheleth the wise teacher states;

 The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. [Ecclesiastes 9:11]

And in the end, the master full of praise will say. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’ (Matthew 25:21)

Bless you.


“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:5


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