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Monday, October 24, 2016

I’m Failing, and I [CAN] Get Up!

Friday of last week, I returned as the emcee of a dinner banquet for the Wayside Elgin ministry. The center has been a daytime intervention center for the homeless since 1993. The Elgin location is part of a much larger ministry based in Aurora that dates back almost 90 years.

The larger Wayside Cross ministry thrives with a few meagerly paid staff and tons of volunteers. Together they serve many “down and outers” through residential programs for men, women, and children. Wayside has a prison outreach and a youth ministry that includes after school and athletic programs.

I’ve been a part of many of their fundraising banquets over the past 14 years. At each event, there are stories to be heard. For those who are willing, you hear about what brought them to their lowest time on earth. And then you hear how their lives turned around.

Mind you, these stories often come from people who lost at the game of life. They played well for a while, accumulating a house and the normal possessions. Perhaps a marriage and children were involved. But then the job went away. Or a habit kicked in too hard. And the game of life kicked them out. Often with nowwhere to turn.

The recovery piece they share publicly does not take a turn to greatness. Most are still in survival mode, but finding new hope and a future through faith and new disciplines. Oh…and a hand that reaches down to help them back up. These people are not about to tell you how failure has now helped make them a big success.

Oddly, the world today has those kinds of stories as well. I learned about this kind of “failure as a winning formula” in a story from the New York Times titled, “The Art of Failing Upward.”

In this scenario, entrepreneurs who launched start-ups that went sour found new life in losing. Apparently, there are blogging sites that cater to the riches-to-rags-to-riches storytellers. Conferences, too, such as FailCon. Don’t ya love it when failure can be repackaged and marketed for big bucks? Is America great, or what?!

I looked up FailCon’s website to get the big picture. Here’s a bit of info from their “About” drop down:

“FailCon is a one-day conference for technology entrepreneurs, investors, developers, and designers to study their own and others’ failures and prepare for success…Entrepreneurs need to hear that from each other: it’s okay to fail; it doesn’t mean you're worthless. You’re just like the rest of us, learning from making mistakes and building something bigger next time.”

I love that pitch! Okay, so can losers really turn into winners because of failure? As Jerry McGuire heard from his client in the movie starring Tom Cruise, “Show me the money!”

So how about Bradford Shellhammer, the 38-year-old e-commerce entrepreneur. In 2011, he received $325 million in funding to help start up a company called Fab. As the Times reports, it “eventually zoomed to a billion-dollar valuation—only to be sold last year for what Bloomberg called a ‘paltry sum.’”

Within months, Shellhammer was back, raising $2.25 million in first round funding for a new firm, Bear. And as Shellhammer wryly told the tech news site Pando about the failed Fab, “You walk away and you are a poster child for not good things. But the cool thing was that it put me on a different stage, and I could go meet the people I wanted to meet.” So Bradford is back living the high life.

The tech world is a different beast. Venture capital flows a lot more readily for “the next big thing” if investors like it. But two things should be stated here. First, angel investors are not so quick to jump on first time entrepreneur ideas. Second, the process is not color blind. Minorities have a much harder time raising capital it seems, as the Times article documents.

Failing upward does seem to have become big business. TED talks thrive on the topic. And the interest in recovering from failure permeate a wide variety of fields. There’s Stuart Firestein’s book, Failure: Why Science Is So Successful. And apparently in Silicon Valley there is an AltSchool, where “model failure is a part of the curriculum.” The pre-K tuition is $27,000 a year!!

It all sounds rosy if you are one of those fortunate ones who find your way back. The homeless of this world do not see their failings quite the same. In fact, most of us don’t. We need encouragement for recovery. Something deep, meaningful…lasting. Something exactly like these words from the Bible,

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5, TLB)

Struggling in something right now? As Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “Our best successes often come after our greatest disappointments.”

Keep looking up!

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Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

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