"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
December 29, 2014
Learning from Failure
by Kathryn H. Kidd

Sometimes you read something that changes your life. For me, a recent example was reading a talk given by R. Lanier Britsch back in 1999, “The Nobility of Failure.”

Ironically, the one contact I have had with R. Lanier Britsch in the long-ago past also involved a failure of sorts, and he was responsible for it. He taught a class on world religions when I was a student at Brigham Young University. It was one of my favorite all-time classes.

Britsch was a fascinating teacher, and I was enthralled with the subject. I aced the course — right up until the final exam.

I wish I had a copy of the final exam to reproduce for you. At the top of the paper was the name of the course. Then there was the word “Name,” followed by a colon and a line where the student could fill in his name.

That was it. Every other word — and I mean every other word on the several-page exam — was in one of five languages: Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, Aramaic, or Sanskrit.

No, that’s an exaggeration. There were different sections on the test. At the top of each section were instructions: “Fill in the Blanks;” “Matching;” “Essay;” “True or False” — that sort of thing. The instructions were in English. That was helpful.

But when you’re filling in the blanks of a sentence whose words are in Hebrew and you don’t actually speak Hebrew, the words “Fill in the Blanks” at the top of the section are not quite helpful enough.

Britsch left the room — as well he could. Even if we had not been students at Brigham Young University, there was no way we could have cheated. All we could do was shake our heads in astonishment. Then we laughed.

I was actually able to answer a question or two, just because of the context. “Namu Amida Butsu” must have gone in this spot, for example. There was no place else it could have fit. But I failed the test, and if I failed it everyone else did too. At least there was convincing evidence of this.

Before this final exam, my grade had been the highest in the class. I knew this for a fact, because Britsch had helpfully kept the grades posted in the hall on a bulletin board for everyone to see. I checked after every test to make sure my status was firmly in place, with that shiny “A” intact, and it always was.

That was the only “A” I was pulling down in a semester where my final grade point average was going to end up being — get this — .56, so you can bet that I was basking in whatever glory I was able to achieve.

So when I saw this exam, I was fully expecting that this text was a joke, and that when the final grades were posted, I would still be at the top of the glass with that shiny “A” grade.

Well, I was half right. When the dust had settled, I was still at the top of the class, but after factoring in the final exam, my grade in the course was now a “C.”

Some professors!

Anyway, I thought it was just a teensy bit ironic that this talk should be given by Lanier Britsch, considering that he was single-handedly responsible for a failure on my part. But his talk on failure was so important that it brought tears to my eyes, because failure has been one of the things in my life at which I have been, shall we say, the most successful.

I do not say this in the hope of being reassured otherwise. I know that some people consider me to be wildly successful, and at least as far as marriage and home and friendship are concerned, I have hit the jackpot.

What can be more important than home and family and friends, you ask? Absolutely nothing. Nobody is more fortunate than I, and I know it. I thank God for my blessings every day of my life.

But in other areas of my life — areas that I do not choose to share with others — I have been somewhat less successful. “Colossal failure” is the phrase that comes to mind. Things have happened to me that have been so bizarre that it’s almost as though an invisible brick wall had been built between me and success.

I did the work and I did it well. Then, when it was time for the reward, the reward did not come.

Things have been so completely against common sense that more than once I have said in my prayers, “If you’re not going to help me, all I ask is that you not stand in my way.”

I guess that’s why I was so touched by the talk. In it, Lanier Britsch quoted a man that many of us would consider a huge success in life — Mitt Romney.

Paraphrasing Romney, Britsch said, “he forthrightly stated that even though we may work hard, keep the rules, cross every t, and eat everything on our plates, we might not be big successes in life. A good deal depends on fate or luck or circumstance. Sometimes the good guys do not win — or so it appears.”

This is Kathy speaking. We all know people whose every effort is rewarded. Doors open for them. Things are handed to them, seemingly before they ask. They fill up their plates and eat everything they want without having to diet.

They don’t know the meaning of the word “pimple,” or “zit,” or whatever teenagers are calling them these days. They date (and later marry) the cheerleaders or the basketball players. Heck, they are the cheerleaders and the basketball players and the rest of the royalty in high school and later in college. Once they get out into the workplace, dream jobs fall in their laps.

I think there may have been a time in his life when Mitt Romney could have gone in that direction. Tall, wealthy, and good-looking, he may have gone a lifetime without ever developing compassion to go with it. A lot of people in his position never understand that it wasn’t their own virtue that got them their looks or their wealth or their success — it was the luck of the draw.

And yet Mitt Romney delivered that speech about failure more than a decade before his defeat in the presidential election, so somehow he learned along the way that life doesn’t come easy for everyone. I can only imagine how his own words may have comforted him in the years since he lost that election, and has reflected on the truth of what he said.

After quoting Romney’s words on failure, Britsch went on to tell the story of Mormon missionaries in the 1800s that went to India to try to spread the gospel, only to have doors shut against them at every turn. Although the missionaries who went to England saw success at every corner, the missionaries in India were only met with disappointment and heartache.

After baptizing only people who expected to be paid to remain members of the Church, and being condemned for everything they did, they went home in seeming defeat, only to almost freeze to death as they struggled across the plains to join their fellow Saints in Utah. It seemed as though everything they did ended in failure or near-failure.

But, as Britsch pointed out, these men were strengthened by their experiences. They were forged in the furnaces of their hardships, and not one of them regretted the time they spent away from their wives and their families, preaching the word of God to people who had no interest in hearing what they had to say.

They recognized that there are blessings associated with sacrifice, even if the sacrifice is not accepted. They understood that there are unseen recipients of that sacrifice — God, and the person who pays the price and suffers the loss.

So can we all be. Our failures are not really failures, if we learn the lessons we are supposed to learn and become better people in the process. We can choose to be successful no matter what the world says.

In the words of Mitt Romney — a person who has since learned from bitter experience — we may “work hard, keep the rules, cross every t, and eat everything on our plates” and stumble long before the finish line. “Fate or luck or circumstance” may work against us, and we may not win.

Nevertheless, there is no need to think of ourselves as failures in this game of life. Some of the most successful people on earth only appear to be that way from our earthly perspective. And some who have lived lives of seeming obscurity and humility may be — in the long run — the most successful people of all.

We are not losers until God says we are, and His is the only opinion that really matters when all is said and done.

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About Kathryn H. Kidd

Kathryn H. Kidd has been writing fiction, nonfiction, and "anything for money" longer than most of her readers have even been alive. She has something to say on every topic, and the possibility that her opinions may be dead wrong has never stopped her from expressing them at every opportunity.

A native of New Orleans, Kathy grew up in Mandeville, Louisiana. She attended Brigham Young University as a generic Protestant, having left the Episcopal Church when she was eight because that church didn't believe what she did. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a BYU junior, finally overcoming her natural stubbornness because she wanted a patriarchal blessing and couldn't get one unless she was a member of the Church. She was baptized on a Saturday and received her patriarchal blessing two days later.

She married Clark L. Kidd, who appears in her columns as "Fluffy," more than thirty-five years ago. They are the authors of numerous LDS-related books, the most popular of which is A Convert's Guide to Mormon Life.

A former managing editor for Meridian Magazine, Kathy moderated a weekly column ("Circle of Sisters") for Meridian until she was derailed by illness in December of 2012. However, her biggest claim to fame is that she co-authored Lovelock with Orson Scott Card. Lovelock has been translated into Spanish and Polish, which would be a little more gratifying than it actually is if Kathy had been referred to by her real name and not "Kathryn Kerr" on the cover of the Polish version.

Kathy has her own website, www.planetkathy.com, where she hopes to get back to writing a weekday blog once she recovers from being dysfunctional. Her entries recount her adventures and misadventures with Fluffy, who heroically allows himself to be used as fodder for her columns at every possible opportunity.

Kathy spent seven years as a teacher of the Young Women in her ward, until she was recently released. She has not yet gotten used to interacting with the adults, and suspects it may take another seven years. A long-time home teacher with her husband, Clark, they have home taught the same family since 1988. The two of them have been temple workers since 1995, serving in the Washington D.C. Temple.

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