Preaching Articles

Do you think of yourself as a failure? Maybe not in every area of life, but in at least one important one? Well, you’re not alone. Many people think that having failed makes them a failure. Too many people. So many, in fact, that I wrote an entire book, Failing Forward, to challenge that perception.

Seeing yourself as a failure is a negative thinking pattern. It doesn’t make you feel any better, and, even more important, it doesn’t help you do any better in the future. To start “failing forward,” you need to look at failure differently.

Pick any area where you’ve repeatedly failed and do the following:

Examine your expectations for that area. Write them down. Are they realistic? Do you expect to do everything perfectly? Do you expect to succeed on the first try? How many mistakes should you expect to make before you succeed? You’ll probably need to adjust your expectations to allow many more mistakes or failures before success.

Find new ways to do your work. Brainstorm at least twenty new approaches to your job or task. Now, I should point out that people who fear failure have a hard time brainstorming because they don’t want to list a “wrong” idea. Be flexible and list even the most outrageous approaches. Then be even more flexible and try at least half of the ideas on your list.

Focus on your strengths. In areas where you’ve frequently failed, ask yourself, “What did I do right?” It’s normal to focus on what you did wrong in the situation, but everyone has some strengths. Rather than focusing on patching up your weaknesses, determine to use your best skills and personal strengths to maximize your efforts.

Vow to bounce back. No matter how many times you fall down, pick yourself up and keep going. This sounds too simplistic, but it’s really essential. Until you commit to keep going, you will always entertain the option of quitting after a failure.

Don’t wait until you feel positive to move forward. Instead, act your way into feeling good. And stop defining yourself as a failure. That kind of negative thinking will always block you from failing forward.

John C. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, coach, and author who has sold over 19 million books. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP and the John Maxwell Company, organizations that have trained more than five million leaders worldwide. Every year he speaks to Fortune 500 companies, international government leaders, and organizations as diverse as the United States Military Academy at West Point, the National Football League, and the United Nations. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books which have each sold more than one million copies: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Developing the Leader Within You, and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. You can find him at and follow him at

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Lisa Donald

commented on Jul 1, 2011

Philipians 4:13, Heb 11:16 (and whole chapter), Rom 8:26, and many other passages directly and indirectly affirm that we are completely reliable Christ through His Holy Spirit for any kind of success according to what really matters to God. Without Him we just can't. It's a faith thing - that two-sided coin that trusts Him even as I work to obey Him. My husband once preached a memorable sermon at a pivotal point in our church about how God could accomplish in one moment more than we can in a lifetime of our own effort.

Keith B

commented on Jul 12, 2011

Do we need a crucified and resurrected Christ for this pep talk?

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