Redefining Failure.

I knew I could do it.

When I was little, I just knew. Every time I was in my yard or at a playground, I would try, sure that this time would be different. Certain that this time, I would accomplish my goal.

I would get my swing to go over the top of the swing set.

I would kick hard at the air in front of me while arching my back so far that my hair would kiss the ground as I sailed by. Then, at just the right moment, I would lean forward and bend my knees into a tight tuck. Back and forth I moved, swinging higher and faster each time.

Some days I would swing so high and so hard and so fast that the structure would shake. Yes, I would think. This is it!

Yet, try as I might, I never looped around.

I failed.

This is not really a surprise. It was a dream that was virtually impossible. The physics required to make it over the top means the chance of victory is a little less likely than winning the lottery. Yet as a child trying to defy gravity, the odds of my success never occurred to me.

The goal wasn’t about the joy of succeeding. The goal was about the excitement of dreaming.

If the only joy to be found was in succeeding, my fear of failure could have caused me to avoid the swings after a few unsuccessful attempts. I may have thought that since I couldn’t swing myself over the top, I just wasn’t cut out for that piece of playground equipment.

Think of what I would have missed if that was my attitude: the feeling of the wind whipping through my hair, the thrill of launching myself from higher and higher altitudes, the nervous excitement of swing-set-shaking speeds.

Success is about much more than accomplishing goals. It’s about having the courage to strive for them.

Sometimes as an adult, I forget that.

My fear of failure looms large.

Then I think about the people in the Bible who had God-given and God-sized goals. They had huge dreams that they never achieved in their lifetime. God’s purpose for them was not in the accomplishment. It was in the process.

Maybe that dream of publishing a book hasn’t failed. But perhaps the process of living your story, meeting new people, and trying new things is enriching your life in ways you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

Maybe that goal of getting a new job hasn’t failed.

Perhaps the interviewing, resume writing, and searching has taught you more about who you are so that you are more prepared for the next thing that comes along.

Dreams and goals engage us in life. They force us to take risks and move us out of our comfort zone. They help us view life through the lens of possibilities.

Leaps of faith sometimes end in a face plant on the other side of the divide. But the crash doesn’t mean we failed. For those who jump get to experience the wonder and trust that can only take place when we give up our secure footing and move towards something new.

So let’s redefine failure. Let’s find success in the dreaming.

Are you afraid of failure? How does that affect the way you approach your dreams?

My name is Stephanie Spencer and I Am A Prodigal


Stephanie Spencer is a former children’s pastor and blogger at, where she pursues the question : How do we engage with God in everyday life? You can find her on Facebook or Twitter.

[photo: stevendepolo Creative Commons]

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  • Wendy van Eyck

    I thought I was afraid of failure and then I realized I was actually afraid of being the girl who never quite made it in life, the person people whispered about, “You know she tried to do XYZ once and failed”. Once I discovered that I wasn’t so afraid of failure anymore, I was more afraid of being the person who never risked for anything and lived with regrets and if onlys. Thanks for this post and getting me thinking about risking for my dreams.

    • Stephanie Spencer

      Yes, Wendy. I resonate with that quite a bit. It’s not always the personal fear that is the strongest, it is the public one. The fear of others seeing that we aren’t as great or as talented or as whatever as others. I’m glad you have found a way to live more risky.

  • Mark Allman


    I like where you said this: “Success
    is about much more than accomplishing goals. It’s about having the courage to
    strive for them” and this: “view life through the lens of possibilities “ I wrote something on another blog but I think
    it fits with what you are saying. We may
    never arrive at the destination and that is ok.
    It is the journey where the excitement is happening. Here is what I had wrote:

    really is about the journey…. We need to concentrate on it; not so much on the
    destination…. It is the journey where we spend most of our time, it is the
    journey where things get tangled up and then figured out, it is the journey
    where the heartache and the unbridled joy reside, it is the journey where you
    meet your fears and where you conquer them, It is the journey where you wish
    you could disappear so no one would see you but you are not allowed, it is the
    journey where your faults and your gifts emerge; where you find your friends
    and foes, where you grow up or throw up, where the most meaningful things in
    life are found; it is the journey.

    • Stephanie Spencer

      Beautifully said, Mark. Really. I love how much you point out as part of the beauty of the journey. Especially this, “it is the journey where things get tangled up and then figured out, it is the journey where the heartache and the unbridled joy reside.”

  • kelli woodford

    this is so comforting, stephanie.
    thank you for the perspective you offer here — that even with failure in view, we can be confident that nothing is wasted. love this: “God’s purpose for them was not in the accomplishment. It was in the process.”

    • Stephanie Spencer

      I’m so glad you found this comforting, Kelli. I do, too. I’m just learning to define failure differently myself. I have to remind myself of the importance of process on a regular basis.