For the past 20 months, I have worked for a failing company. I came to Columbus right out of college, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was full of energy and excitement at the prospect of a new adventure: I would be living in a new part of the country after growing up in New England and working at a cutting-edge technology startup with a grand vision for the future. And for the first year, my expectations were more than fulfilled. Less than a year out of college, I was given full responsibility over the design, development and sales of a product that combined two of my childhood passions, engineering and soccer.
The end of this story is not quite so auspicious.
As a company, we failed to bring our vision to fruition. We failed to create a company culture that was empowering and enjoyable. I failed to find a way to scale my project in a sustainable manner. The co-founders failed to raise money and continually missed payroll.
I left the company, brimming with negative emotions. I felt ashamed at my inability to bring my projects to maturity. I felt angry about the money, the dreams, the hopes that had been lost. I felt disappointed by my failure to be proactive; I had stayed at the company far too long, trapped by inertia, by the fear of an uncertain job search, by a sense of misplaced obligation. Most of all, I felt bitter and betrayed by the failings of company leadership – at the poor decisions which stunted our growth, at the litany of promises made and broken by the co-founders, and at their refusal to be honest and transparent with their employees.
I also felt disappointed in myself for straying off the path of success that I had been taught to follow. Many of my friends were working at prestigious jobs, studying for advanced degrees at elite institutions, pursuing impactful work at well-regarded non-profits. I, on the other hand, felt like I had wasted a year and a half of my life, trying to build something at a company that was on the brink of failure, that I had stopped believing in and that no longer paid me anything except promises.
I questioned what I truly wanted to do with my career and who I wanted to be and how I defined success for myself. I questioned too the scope of my capabilities and the wisdom of my judgment; of who I chose to trust and keep faith in. I spent a lot of time praying, asking for guidance from God, seeking respite from my self-doubts and answers to my search for purpose. The late Rev. Tony Jarvis once said, “prayer comes from the deepest recesses of our being. Real prayer is often desperate; when we pray, we cry out our deepest needs and desires.”
We are at our most honest in our lowest depths, when we have failed and are lost and left with nothing but hope – and it is in these moments that the love of God shines brightest. It was in prayer, in the act of reaching out to God, that I was reminded that I am not alone even in the depths of my failures, and that my failures and failings do not define me.
Faith teaches us that it is okay to fail and gives us the courage to trust in the path that we walk, to trust that God walks alongside us always. But faith gives us more than just the strength to fail; faith encourages us to fail.
In my introspection, I also thought about other ways in which I have failed. Episcopalians confess each week that “we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” I feel this deeply. It is often easy to dislike another, to exclude another; many days, I have not walked with an open heart to all. I have failed to serve the poor and the needy to the best of my ability. And even in my attempts to serve, I have left people hungry, I have left people without shelter in the dead of winter. I fail each week to walk in the way of the Lord, despite my desires and my attempts.
And each week, God forgives us of our sins. But forgiveness here is not simply absolution; rather, I view it as tied inextricably with a sense of expectation – last week I failed to love my neighbors with my whole heart, but this week I must try a bit harder. And when I fail again, God will still be there, forgiving my failure, encouraging me to redouble my efforts. Whenever we fall short, God lifts our heads and tells us that it is okay, and that it is time to try again.
Moreover, God stands beside me as a partner in reflection and prayer. Faith further encourages me to fail by reassuring me that God will sit next to me whenever I fail, will talk through my failures with me, will continue pointing me in the right direction again and again. Asking for forgiveness and support can be incredibly difficult, because it requires me to intimately acknowledge my failures in front of Him, to be honest and vulnerable about my emotions. Faith gives me the trust that God will be there to pause and reflect with me in these moments of reckoning, that God will be there to listen, so that I might walk differently in the future.
I want to fail, repeatedly. It shows that I am willing to try, willing to reflect, and willing to strive for better.
So, let us embrace failure. Give us the courage to dive headfirst into a life centered on helping those in need, on serving the destitute, on loving our neighbors, even when we know that we are human and we are flawed and failure is inevitable; give us the strength to stand up and try again, even though we know that failure hurts, that it stings, that it sticks and gnaws; and give us the faith that God will always be there alongside us when we fail and when we hurt, lending us strength and courage and solace and comfort in equal measure.
Franklin Li is a member of Trinity Church on Capitol Square in Columbus. He will be heading to law school this fall.