Failure Is The Best Option

pole vaulter

How does a pole vaulter know when he’s reached his full potential?

How does a pole vaulter know when she’s the best in the world?

The only way to tell is to keep going higher until everyone has reached the point of failure. Only then will you know if you have reached your highest potential, and if that is as good or better than everyone else.

Never hire a pole vaulter as a maintenance engineer. Their motto is “If it ain’t broke, keep going until it is!” That’s how they become record-breakers.

Most people will give up long before they fail .. they’ll give up as soon as they feel uncomfortable, as soon as they feel a bit stretched, a bit incompetent, a bit different, a bit tired, a bit broke, a bit persecuted, a bit criticised, a bit rejected …

Winners will keep fighting through everything – way past the point of quitting – and make sure they reach failure.

If you want to be really successful, failure is the best option.

When you are an investor you quickly learn that one success can make up for many, many failures.

When you are a business owner, all of your customers would rather you fail and stick around than have one success and then quit supplying them.

I feel over-qualified to talk about failure. I’ve had marriage failures, financial failures, countless diet failures, health failures, spiritual failures and so on.

And I’ve had my small share of success, too.

If you read the gospels (and I hope you do – you’ll be blessed!), you’ll see one particular person failing over and over and over again.

Then becoming the leader that the Son of God could entrust His bride too.

Jesus trained people for leadership not by asking them to read a blog post or attend a meeting, but by supervising their actual failure. In Training and Development this is called “The Peter Principle”. In Masterchef it’s called “The Pressure Test”.

Imagine you wanted to build a building and someone offered you some new building materials that hadn’t been tested yet. As a responsible builder, you would definitely refuse.

Builders must prove that their buildings meet standards based on points of failure. Extensive load testing is done to ensure that a building can handle:

  1. Dead load – the amount of weight of the building before anyone moves in.
  2. Live load – all the weight that is added when people move in (the weight of the people themselves, especially if it is a stadium, but also aquariums, safes, computers, furniture, bookcases etc.)
  3. Safety Factor – a margin of error or excess. For example, if I tell you your building floor “can safely support 1,000 kgs” and it has a safety factor of 2.0 I won’t expect it to fail until it is supporting 2,000 kgs.

Structural engineers get excited when they hear a building is slated for demolition because before it is demolished they will use it to test extreme loads. If it’s going to be demolished anyway, it’s the perfect place to monitor at what points the tell-tale signs of failure (e.g. stress cracks) occur along the way. So they can save lives in new buildings.

Because Peter had been thoroughly tested, Jesus knew it was safe to build His church on him. He was rock-solid because he’d failed.

When Christ proclaimed him as a rock, it was only minutes later that Peter failed and earned Christ’s rebuke “Get behind me Satan”.

Peter wanted to build a building when He saw Christ transfigured. That was just one of his failures.

When Peter moved out of the boat and started walking on the water, he was already ahead of all of the others who stayed safe in the boat … or was he? I bet he didn’t think so when he was drowning! But he was learning about live loads.

When he followed Jesus on the night He was arrested, Peter had learnt the advantage of a safety factor when he “followed at a distance” (Luke 22:54).

In that same night, he had already failed to stay awake, he failed to pray, and he even failed when he got the sword out in Gethsemane and cut off Malchus’s ear (John 18:10-11).

And all of this was before he failed to even acknowledge knowing Christ, let alone be His witness. Three denials, three more failures, in the same night.

So why did God choose Peter to take the lead on the Day of Pentecost and later open the door to the Gentiles and build the church?

Why didn’t he choose someone with a record of success or at least a clean slate?

Because only Peter had been on the journey God wants to take us all on – way beyond our point of quitting – right up to our point of failure.

There’s something about the point of failure that makes it the ideal lookout point. You can see things, you can’t see anywhere else.

And what was it Jesus wanted Peter to see most clearly?

  • Do you love me?
  • Feed my sheep.

When someone shows they love you, you don’t ask for their resume or their bank balance. All you really care about is are they going to love you past the point where everyone else would quit.

And a starving sheep doesn’t care whether you’ve won Shepherd of the Year award or not. They just want to know if you’re still going to be meeting their needs and keeping them alive past the point when everyone else left so they could have their own needs met.

The real needs in life are only met by people who know how to continually pass through quitting and keep going until they reach the best option for any record-breaking pole vaulter, investor or load-testing engineer – the glorious point of failure.


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