I have a quote on a post-it not next to my desk at work. It’s a quote that has been widely attributed to Winston Churchill, and it is one that I look at several times throughout the day, particularly in those moments when things aren’t quite moving as fast as I hoped they would be. In my old, faded handwriting, it says this:
“Success is the ability to move from one failure to another without any loss of enthusiasm”
My eye was drawn to that quote as I began planning for this blog post. It has been a season in which a couple of the plates have dropped, and I’ve had to let some things sit for a while. It has been a season in which that little niggling voice has been all too present at the back of my mind: asking me if I think I’m doing enough, being enough; accusing me like only the enemy can do. This quote represents a value that I have held onto tightly, over the past year or so: the idea that the only way that I can really, truly fail is if I fall down one time more than I get up again.
In the process of reflecting on that time and writing this blog post, I decided to do a little bit of digging into that quote, and some of the other ideas that Churchill shared with the world. Annoyingly, I discovered that those words probably weren’t something that he ever said – it’s one of those internet quotes, which has been tied to him over time; it has also been attributed to Abraham Lincoln.
Indignantly, I carried on digging, drawn into an internet black hole about Churchill and his speeches. While that quote is most likely invented by the Twitter generation, I found a few of his speeches and excerpts of his books; and, in them, so absolute gold. These are a couple of the things that Churchill actually had to say about courage, and about success:
“No boy or girl should ever be disheartened by lack or success in their youth, but should diligently and faithfully continue to persevere and make up for lost time” – a speech at the University of Miami, 1946
“Do not be fobbed off with mere personal success or acceptance. You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her. She was made to be won and wooed by youth” My Early Life, 1930
So What Can we Learn from Winston?
Although the quote that I’ve got in faded ink next to my desk might not be worth much to anybody, here are a few lessons that I think we can learn here, about courage and about success and about youth:
1. Be Generous
“Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins – a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all of the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never mess; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford – she gave her all” Mark 12:41-44 MSG
A reminder: the rich men gave huge contributions out of what they could afford, while the humble widow came in and gave everything that she could, more than she could afford – two cents. And it was the widow that Jesus was pleased with.
The generous life, Jesus shows us, is about giving our all – abundantly out of our finances, our time, our gifts, our words, our heart. Be generous.
2. Be True
“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd” Psalm 18:25-26
This psalm is one of the last that David wrote – these are some of his last words, effectively; it’s the sum of a lifetime of wisdom and experiential knowledge of God – and this is one of his observations of the Father. God is a friend of integrity, David noticed – He loves purity, righteousness and truth. There’s grace, and we have all fallen short of the glory of God, and yet this is one of the ways that we can position our hearts to walk with God, as His friend: be true. Have integrity. Be pure – be as He has made you to be, and He will meet you in that.
3. And Also, Be Fierce
I love that God set our hearts on fire for the things that we are passionate. Stop and think about that for just a moment: God, the Creator, who put the stars in the sea and the mountains on the earth, also put those things that you care about inside your heart. He knew which injustices would cause something to rise up inside of you; He knew the people that you would see when nobody else seems to. That bit is totally unique to you.
Fredrick Beuchner says that this is where we find our purpose. “The place God calls you to,” he says, “is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”.
In other words, you weren’t made as you are, by accident. And you don’t see the need that you see in the world by chance. He made you, as his hands and feet on this earth, so that you might be His light – so that you might find purpose in that passion that He has put inside of you.
And So, Success.
To sum up: success, I’ve learnt, very rarely looks like we expect it to. It doesn’t look like constant wins with no falls. It doesn’t look like never getting things wrong, never making mistakes.
Success, like our friend Winston said, is very simple: be generous, be true and also, be fierce.