When Failure Succeeds
Issue 85 October 2011
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.” So said Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb. Edison famously failed to make a light-bulb thousands upon thousands of times. Of this he said, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” His is not the only story of someone who did not give up in the face of seemingly obvious failure. Abraham Lincoln notched up a string of failures before eventually becoming president of the United States. After he dropped out of Harvard, Bill Gates’ first business went bust. Walt Disney was fired from his media job because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” In fact, there is an endless list of successful people who were once failures. Winston Churchill, who had a string of failures to his name, described courage as, “Going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”
However, keeping going in the face of failure is no easy task. And then there are the questions: How do you know the difference between persistence in the face of failure, and flogging the proverbial dead horse? How do you know when you are beaten, and should move on? How do you know whether quitting is not the best thing for everyone? How do you know when failure in one thing may lead to success in another? These, and other questions, will be familiar to anyone who has attempted to achieve anything in life, and faced tests along the way. And the answers are neither easy nor uniform.
As someone who believes in God, my response to trials and tribulations is to beseech The Merciful in the midst of problems. I will be honest—my soul has often called out from the prayer mat, “A little help down here please!” As a natural optimist I can usually find the bright side of most things, the silver lining in the clouds, the rainbow after the showers. There are times though when I struggle to know what to do, and I question Him, “Oh my Lord, I surrendered to You, and said my life was Yours, so why are the answers to problems so difficult to find?”
It is during these times that I remember the Qur’an. “Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe’, and that they will not be tested? We tested those before them, and God will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.” (29:2-3)
Life is not meant to be easy. Faith is not meant to be easy. Success is not meant to be easy. The stories of all the prophets are testament to these eternal truths.
The Prophet Muhammad himself failed to convince many people in the early years of his ministry of the truth of his vision. He felt despondent in Taif after being chased away by the children. Noah preached for many years and still only a handful of people accepted his call. Moses must truly have felt a failure when, having convinced his people to escape to the Promised Land, he was faced with the Rea Sea in front of him, and Pharaoh’s troops behind him. That seemed not only a failure of epic proportions, but certain death for Moses and his people. When Moses cried for help, God told him to, “Strike the sea with your staff.” God could easily have paved an escape route through the sea without requiring this tiny (and seemingly irrelevant) action by Moses in the face of extreme adversity. Moses acted, the sea parted, his people were saved, and Pharaoh’s army drowned.
For me, the story of Moses shows two things. Firstly, God requires that we must take action when faced with adversity. Problems can be solved; He will cause the change, but He requires that we are the agents of change. Secondly, that when faced with adversity the action that brings success may be trivial and irrelevant, but eventually there will be an act that will finally change the balance of things until they work.
There will be times when we are burnt out completely by the journey. During these times, remember that there are some seeds which are only able to germinate through fire. There will be times when it seems as if there is nothing left within us. It is in our nature to ask, “When will God’s help come?” But we must remember “God’s help is always near.”
We should leave no stone unturned in the quest for success if our cause is good and righteous. If “why” we are doing something is for Him, and we have the right intention, then we must never give up. It is the promise of God that, “With every hardship there is ease,” and eventually, insha-Allah, He will reveal a way to success, even if it be by the striking of the sea with a stick!