My first memory of failure is from Grade 9. I failed a Science test. I’ll never forget the shame I felt. Like I was stupid, unable to do anything well, an idiot. That’s how failure made me feel that first time.
I think I was always kind of afraid of being a failure. I think we all are.
I spent high school watching my step and setting unreachable goals. And hoping I’d never fail again.
Then, I started university. And they told me that I had to fail to pass.
I don’t remember when they said it — whether it was during orientation, in my first acting class, or when I went for my advising session. But I know I heard this strange and impossible quote: Fail Boldly time and time again throughout September, October, November, and December.
I didn’t get it. Failure wasn’t good. I’d spent my life striving for just the opposite and I couldn’t imagine why anyone else wouldn’t.
Maybe they meant that you just had to be able to admit your mistakes and show that you were humble. Maybe failing boldly was just being able to laugh at your self. Maybe it wasn’t really “failure.” Perhaps it was just an artsy phrase or a figure of speech, I convinced myself and continued to hope for perfection. Because I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would ever want to fail on purpose.
I didn’t get it. My first monologue mark in the beginning of second semester reflected that. And I hated my work, felt like a failure, and considered giving up. I just couldn’t really, flat on my face, fail boldly.
The rest of the semester unfolded in a weird, tearful mess of beauty and growth. And slowly, I learned. I began to undo, to understand, and to fail.
I can’t explain it completely. But I do remember when I willingly failed boldly for the first time.
It was the end of March. The day had been bright and spring like. I’d memorized and learned and cried over a monologue for weeks. And now I stood, a bit breathless, a bit tired, a bit nervous, after the group audition, in the middle of the stage. I was alone and absolutely vulnerable. Right there, I lay one of my greatest hopes out and put myself on the clothes’ line. And as I opened mouth and began the text, I lay everything I had down and just let it go.
I had that actor’s moment where you don’t feel memorized and the words just slide out of your tongue as if you’re saying it for the first time. I stopped thinking about my audience or how I looked. I let myself be, for a moment. I felt a strange peace in my soul and my stomach, instead of the butterflies that usually reside there. I think I let the Holy Spirit in and it felt like He carried me on His wings.
And I think I failed. Boldly.
And I realized that failing boldly isn’t really what I thought it was after all. Failing is allowing yourself to be human. Its giving yourself the freedom to live and breath and let yourself move. Failing boldly is finding rest and growing and trying again. Its submitting yourself to the gift of Jesus and letting him take control of your life and future. Failing boldly is about grace and peace and life.
I don’t know if this is really what my professors meant about failing boldly. But this is what I learned when I tried. And as I think about this coming year, I hope to stay in this state, to tumble a bit, and fall on my face and then get back up again.
I hope you’ll try it too — failing boldly isn’t so bad as we thought.