Dana, I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man,
and I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail,
I get my people together and I say, "Where are we going?"
And it starts to get better. And that's what you should do.
- Clark Gregg as Calvin Trager
Every time I hear this speech in the final episode of Aaron Sorkin's show Sports Night (a.k.a. my favorite show ever ever EVER), I feel giddy. Truly and utterly GIDDY. Even hearing it for what must have been the gazillionth time last night, I felt that little thrill charge through me again.
I mean, these are encouraging words to hear. INSPIRING words to hear. It's the perfect time for such a message, with all the good intentions and optimism and resolutions that come with a new year. And while I don't typically make standard New Year's resolutions, I did spend a lot of time in the late fall and over the holidays contemplating my life, and praying about how to live out the next year with purpose, and this speech of Sorkin's dovetails with several things I've been thinking.
Failure is a possibility. As obvious as this statement may sound, I've spent much of my life making sure I don't face this reality. I've either chosen to live in that seductive land called Denial, where I fail but pretend to myself that I haven't (and hope that everyone else is willing to comply), or I've deliberately avoided situations where I sense that failure is possible. So it is deliciously freeing to embrace a new opportunity and openly acknowledge to myself Yes, I may fail at this. And then it's like introducing myself to the elephant in the room, but finding out it's more like a surly cat: still lurking there, and could claw my eyes out in the end, but at least its mere presence doesn't incapacitate me. Because when it comes down to it, failure is really about fear, and when we look failure right in the eyes we diminish its power over us and say We are not afraid. God does not want us to live as quivering, whimpering beings, staying in the safe zone where we're assured of success and are lodged in comfort, protected from failure. As Paul exhorted Timothy, "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you...For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (1 Timothy 1:6a, 7).
Failure is not the end of the story. Rather, it's the beginning of something new. As Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying, "I haven't failed 10,000 times. I've found 10,000 ways that won't work." Whether or not he phrased it exactly this way (as is disputed), it's still a great picture of the way that failure can inspire us to make progress toward something.
Keep returning to your mission. Notice that Trager's line is NOT, "And each time I fail, I get my people together and I say, What did we do wrong?" NO! He says, "Where are we going?" This is the essential question. After each dismal failure, each shattering disappointment, after each trauma or even each fist-pumping victory, this is the question that maneuvers our heart and mind back to our core purpose. This is the question that hones in on our mission, that reminds us that we even HAVE a mission. Asking Where are we going? helps us eliminate distractions and calibrate priorities. And most crucially, this is the question that points us back to God: our starting point and our ending point, and the place where we abide in between.
Find your people. Regardless of how introverted we are or how much we relish solitude, we all need a community. A community of people who GET us, people we trust to stand with us and BY us in our failure and our bumbling around. A community of people we invite into both the beaming places and the murky places so they can truly know our heart and our mission; people who are willing to ask the hard questions or say the hard things to keep us moving in that direction. We need people who will know what we mean when we ask "Where are we going?" and who won't be afraid to remind us where Jesus asked us to go.
So these are things I'm thinking about lately, thanks to Aaron Sorkin. And so I ask you: Quo Vadis? (where are you going?) Quo Vadimus? (where are we going?)