7 Questions to Determine if You are Failing Forward


“Crash, rebuild…crash, rebuild…crash, rebuild…but never, ever give up!”                                                                                                ~The Wright Brothers

I’m going to come right out and admit it: I have a history of ruining, or at least significantly tainting, holiday celebrations because of high expectations and over-sensitivity. This past Thanksgiving Day, 2019, I was determined to break the trend. But when I put my head on the pillow that night, I was the least favorite person in my family. Another swing and a miss. I slept horribly. Despite all of my great intentions that things would be different. I had not changed. I was still the same old jerk who ruined everything.

Or was I? Was it really the same as years past? Or had it been different? The next day, as I pondered my failure and discussed it briefly with a friend, I became aware that there were some aspects to this “melt-down” that make it different from the past…differences that are actually encouraging. 

Here are 2 Conclusions that I’ve come to as I’ve reflected on the apparent Thanksgiving Day debacle, and 7 Questions to help you determine if you are failing forward in the areas that you feel defeated in. 

1    Progress does NOT mean Perfection.

This “all or nothing” mindset is a set-up for despair. In what universe do we go from A to Z in one jump? Growth is slow trudging, rarely more than an inch at a time! It requires work, consistency, tenacity and loads of time. I was miles from perfect on Thanksgiving Day, but I believe I saw some progress.

2    Progress does NOT mean Pretty.

If we imagine growth and change to be like a graceful bird in the sky or a dainty ballerina on a stage, we’re delusional. Progress often looks more like a train wreck where there are some survivors. We find signs of life amongst the wreckage. This understanding of progress is vital in order for us to persevere in our mission to improve. We’ve got to find the life amongst the wreckage.

So, if you are a knucklehead like me who struggles regularly, here are 7 questions that you can ask yourself to see if there is any life in your wreckage. You may be doing better than you think.

Question #1: In your failure, were you able to avoid any destructive behaviors to yourself or others that have been common in the past?

For me, a red-faced, high octane blow-up has been all too common…but not this time. There was unnecessary intensity on several occasions, but I never “lost it.” Twice, instead of exploding, I consciously left the environment when I felt hot lava beginning to move up my internal volcano, This is encouraging progress! It’s been said, “Inch by inch, anything’s a cinch. Yard by yard is too hard.” I didn’t take a yard, but I believe I failed forward by at least an inch. I’ll take it!

Question #2: Did you take time to reflect on your failure to learn from it?

Charles Kettering, the Head Researcher and Inventor at GM for 27 years, said: “We must teach that it is not a disgrace to fail, and that we must analyze every failure to find its cause. We must learn how to fail intelligently, for failing is one of the greatest arts in the world.” The Art of Failing Intelligently. I love that! Personal Growth expert, John Maxwell puts it this way: “Experience is NOT the best teacher. Evaluated experience IS!” OK! If you took intentional time to evaluate your experience and learn from it, you are failing forward.

Question #3: Did you take responsibility for your actions instead of justifying or minimizing them?

One of the primary reasons people don’t move forward is an unwillingness to “own” their behavior. It takes humility and courage to do this when blaming is so much easier! We begin to fail forward ONLY when we focus on the rubbish in our own yard and stop looking over the fence at our neighbor’s yard (even if that “neighbor” is our child or spouse!).

Question: #4: Did you apologize to those that you offended?

Oh, this is hard, but so necessary. Sometimes, when we stumble so often in a particular area, it is easy to think “What’s the point? They’ve heard this apology so many times already. It won’t mean anything.” Well, maybe not at that moment, but for YOU it is an act of penitence and humility that will change your heart and enable you to fail forward.

Question #5: Did your desire to change this behavior intensify?

Growing up, my Dad drilled into us that “we are always at a place where two roads part. One leads to the Land of Promise, the other to a hardened heart.” If we push our failure away, or shrug it off, our hearts harden and we set ourselves up to fail again in exactly the same way. Owning our failure and allowing ourselves to really feel the pain it has caused has the potential to supercharge our desire to change so that we never repeat it.

Question #6: Were you able to shorten your “bounce back” time?

Powerhouse boxer, Mike Tyson, once remarked: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” I love that statement!  The best laid plans can get derailed so quickly when life punches us in the face! The question isn’t “Will I get punched?” The question is: “How long will it take me to get back up?” And so, I’m encouraged. I see my “bounce back” time shortening. I am resolved to get back up and keep fighting, to keep working on myself, to never quit…and to continue shortening my bounce back time. As I do, I will continue to fail forward. And so will you. 

Question #7: Did you gain a greater sense of your need for God’s help?

Could this be a main purpose of failure…to show us how badly we need God? To help us realize that our own resources, all of our positive thinking and best efforts are not enough? Maybe that is the main take-away. Psalm 118:8 is the verse…the spine…that divides the Bible right down the middle. Here’s what it declares: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” There it is. If our failure has stirred us to run to the Lord Jesus for His supernatural strength and help, and to trust less in ourselves, then we, for certain, have failed forward.

So, for all of my fellow strugglers…how are you doing? Is there life in your wreckage? Is your messy failure producing progress? Are you failing forward? I sincerely hope that you are!

How do you see yourself failing forward? 

Share it in the Comments section below! Thanks so much!

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