Young People Ask . . .

How Can I Cope With Failure?

“I just got my report card, and I failed the same four classes again. I tried, but I just failed again.”​—Lauren, aged 15.

“It’s definitely a struggle to deal with failure. It’s easy to start thinking negatively.”​—Jessica, aged 19.

FAILURE. You may not even like to think of that word. But from time to time, we all face it. Whether it is failing a school test, experiencing a social embarrassment, disappointing someone we care about, or making a moral blunder, failure can be devastating.

Of course, all humans make mistakes. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says the Bible. (Romans 3:23) Yet, some of us find it hard to pick ourselves up after a fall. A youth named Jason puts it this way: “I’m my own worst critic. If I make a mistake, people might laugh​—but they usually forget about it. I don’t forget, and I keep thinking about my mistake.”

Giving some thought to one’s failures is not necessarily a bad thing​—especially if doing so moves you to make improvements. However, prolonged and unrelenting self-criticism is harmful and counterproductive. Says Proverbs 12:25: “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down.”

Consider a man in the Bible named Epaphroditus. He was sent to Rome to serve as the apostle Paul’s personal assistant. However, Epaphroditus got sick and was unable to fulfill that assignment. In fact, Paul ended up taking care of him! Paul arranged to send Epaphroditus home, informing the local congregation that this faithful man had also become depressed. The reason? “You heard he had fallen sick,” explained Paul. (Philippians 2:25, 26) When Epaphroditus realized that others knew he was ill and unable to fulfill his duties, he may well have felt like a failure. No wonder he became depressed!

Is there any way to avoid the painful feelings of failure?

Know Your Limits

One way to reduce the chance of failure is to set sensible, modest goals for yourself. “Wisdom is with the modest ones,” says the Bible. (Proverbs 11:2; 16:18) And a modest person is aware of his or her limitations. True, it’s good at times to challenge yourself so as to improve your skills and abilities. But be realistic. You may simply not be a whiz at math or have the grace and coordination of a  star athlete. A young man named Michael admits: “I know I’m not good in sports. So I play, but I do not set myself up for failure there.” He explains: “You have to set goals that are within your means to accomplish.”

Consider the attitude of 14-year-old Yvonne, who suffers from spina bifida and cerebral palsy. “I can’t walk or dance or run like others,” says Yvonne. “It makes me feel frustrated that I can’t do what others do. Most people really don’t understand. But I can deal with it.” Her advice? “Don’t stop. Just keep on trying. If you fail or do badly, don’t give up. Just keep doing the best you can.”

At the same time, don’t torment yourself by making unfair comparisons with others. Andrew, aged 15, says, “I try to avoid comparing myself to someone else because we all have different strengths and abilities.” Andrew’s comments echo the Bible’s words found at Galatians 6:4: “Let each one prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.”

High Expectations From Others

Sometimes, though, high expectations are imposed upon you​—by parents, teachers, and others. And you realize that, try as you may, you just can’t please them. To make matters worse, such ones may express their disappointment in words that irritate or perhaps even crush you. (Job 19:2) Likely you realize that your parents and others are not deliberately trying to hurt you. As Jessica observes, “many times they don’t even realize how they’re affecting you. Sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding.”

On the other hand, is it possible that they see something you don’t? For example, perhaps you really are selling yourself short and underestimating yourself. Instead of ignoring their urgings, you are wise to “listen to discipline.” (Proverbs 8:33) Michael explains: “It’s for your own good. They want you to do better, to improve yourself. Think of it as a challenge.”

What, though, if you feel that the demands of parents and others are simply unreasonable​—that you are being set up for failure? Then it would be wise to speak with them​—respectfully, but candidly—​and let them know how you feel. Together you may be able to set some goals that are more realistic.

“Failures” in Your Spiritual Life

Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, youths have the challenge of carrying out their assignments as ministers of God. (2 Timothy 4:5) If you are a young Christian, you may sometimes feel inadequate. Maybe you feel that you do not do very well in making comments at meetings. Or perhaps you have difficulty explaining the Bible’s message to others. Jessica, for example, studied the Bible with another teenage girl. For a while her Bible student progressed well. Abruptly, though, the girl decided she did not want to serve God. Jessica recalls, “I felt like a failure.”

How did Jessica cope with those feelings? First, she had to realize that her student  had rejected, not her, but God. She was also helped by meditating on the Biblical example of Peter, a godly man who had a number of shortcomings. She explains, “The Bible shows that Peter overcame his weaknesses, and he was used by Jehovah in many ways to advance Kingdom interests.” (Luke 22:31-34, 60-62) Of course, if your skills as a teacher need improvement, why not apply yourself more in that regard? (1 Timothy 4:13) Avail yourself of the help of mature ones in the congregation who can teach and train you.

Perhaps, though, it is the door-to-door ministry that you find to be especially challenging. Jason admits, “Every door that closes feels like a small failure.” How does he cope? “I have to remember that I have not really failed.” Yes, he has succeeded in doing what God commanded him to do​—to preach! And while rejection is admittedly hard to take, not all people will reject the Bible’s message. “When I find a person who listens,” says Jason, “then I know it’s all worth it.”

Serious Errors

What if you make a serious error​—or even commit a serious sin? Ana, who is 19 years old, made such a mistake. * She admits, “I failed the congregation, my family, and especially Jehovah God.” To recover, you need to repent and seek the help of spiritually older men in the congregation. (James 5:14-16) Ana recalls one elder’s helpful words: “He said that despite all the negative things that King David did, Jehovah was still willing to forgive him, and David recovered. That helped me.” (2 Samuel 12:9, 13; Psalm 32:5) You also need to do whatever you can to build yourself up spiritually. “I read the book of Psalms over and over,” says Ana, “and I have a journal where I write down encouraging scriptures.” In time, one can recover even from a serious fall. Says Proverbs 24:16: “The righteous one may fall even seven times, and he will certainly get up.”

Getting Past Failure

Of course, even relatively minor failures can still hurt. What can help you to get past them? First of all, face your mistakes realistically. Michael recommends: “Instead of just thinking of yourself as a general failure, pinpoint what you failed at and what caused it. This way you can do better next time.”

Also, avoid taking yourself too seriously. There is “a time to laugh”​—and that might include laughing at yourself! (Ecclesiastes 3:4) If you feel discouraged, turn your attention toward something that you do well, such as a hobby or a sport. Being “rich in fine works”​—such as sharing your faith with others—​can help you to feel more positive about yourself.​—1 Timothy 6:18.

Finally, remember that “Jehovah is merciful and gracious . . . He will not for all time keep finding fault.” (Psalm 103:8, 9) Says Jessica, “I feel that the closer I draw to Jehovah God, the more confident I can be about his support and help in anything that I go through.” Yes, it is comforting to know that despite your failings, your heavenly Father values you.


^ par. 23 Her name has been changed.

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If you feel overwhelmed by the demands placed upon you, find a respectful way to speak up

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Working at things you do well can help dispel feelings of failure