Maureen Lang – What’s the Best Teacher? Success or Failure?

Maureen LangWhat’s the Best Teacher? Success or Failure?

by Maureen Lang

If failure is the best teacher, does that somehow make success the worst?

I’ve been involved in the writing community off and on for most of my adult life, and I can claim with some authority that writers learn from both failure and success. Here’s how:


This is the old Pavlov’s dog theory: Want a dog to come to you when you call him? Consistently offer a treat and he’ll come every time, not just to please you but for that treat he’s been conditioned to expect. In any relationship, if we do something positive for a loved one, we not only enjoy doing it, but we hope they’ll react in a positive way. They’re pleased, grateful, perhaps even more loving in return. As a writer, when we subject our work to critique we tend to respond to the positive feedback with confidence. If someone says: “Your dialogue is great!” we have more confidence and will likely never shy away from books using plenty of our strengths.


If a child touches a hot stove they quickly learn not to do that again. In a relationship, if a wife serves a new recipe for meatloaf and her husband doesn’t like it, that’s a failure she can learn from. Never use that recipe again! For a writer, if our work is rejected and we’re fortunate enough to get feedback as to why, we take that feedback to heart and try to improve whatever is lacking. Or if we get a number of reviews that mention the same thing, we strive to improve those areas in future work. So we learn by our failures.

In engineering circles like the ones my husband belongs to, you might hear someone say: “Fail early, fail often.” Failing early allows you more time to improve, to innovate, make changes—adjust. In writer’s circles, we would say our early failures lead us to stronger stories, deeper characters, a more emotional exchange between page and reader.

In short, failures in any venue make our product stronger.

My Pastor recently talked about the passage from Matthew 14 where Jesus walks on water. The text says Jesus had stayed behind to pray while the disciples took the boat out on the lake. So the disciples are in the boat without Him, and the sea suddenly rages. I’ve heard about how suddenly such storms can rise on the Sea of Galilee if the wind is from the east. One storm I read about had 10 ft. waves! Do you have any doubt the disciples feared for their lives?

Then Jesus appears, walking over the stormy waters, and they think He’s a ghost. So Peter calls out: “If it’s really You, let me come to You!” Christ says yes, he should come, and Peter starts out so confidently. As he leaves that boat, his eyes are on Christ. How exhilarated he must have felt to actually walk on that wind-swept water! But then Peter looks away. He suddenly lets the storm define his environment; he’s fearful and asks Jesus to save him. After the exhilaration of walking on water, did Peter feel like a failure when he felt himself sinking?

Failure certainly seems to be a universal human experience. And if failure is a teacher, then it might even be good for us. My pastor’s lesson was that it’s most important to follow failure with the right reaction. What did Peter do? He looked to Christ. And Christ was there. Christ didn’t look at Peter and call him a failure. He observed that his faith had faltered, but isn’t it also obvious that when Peter climbed out of that boat, for the moments that followed when he actually did walk on the water, that Christ was exhilarated right along with Peter? Peter tasted God’s power; that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t stepped out of the boat.

Our pastor reminded us that God sometimes allows storms (and failures) into our life to get us to release our grip on everything around us—and cling to Him instead. Peter might have learned about God’s power from his moment of success, but his moment of failure led him to depend more on God.

Perhaps failure really is a better teacher than success.

Meet the Author:

Maureen Lang has been writing stories since the age of ten, when she figured out a way to write the stories she feels like reading. Since then she’s become the award-winning author of over a dozen published novels. In the last ten years her faith has directed her to write stories that reflect Christian hope and traditional values. She’s also been an active member of the disability community since her oldest son was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic form of mental retardation. Maureen loves going on research trips to get a feel for the settings of her novels, and lives in the Chicago area with her husband, children, and lovable Labrador Retriever. Visit her on the web at

Click on the pic below for information about ordering Maureen’s novels.

All_In_Good_Time_Screen_ShotAll In Good Time

Dessa Caldwell has a dream:

to open Pierson House, a refuge for former prostitutes in Denver’s roughest neighborhood. But after exhausting all charitable donations, Dessa still needs a loan. Her last hope hinges on the owner of Hawkins National Bank.

Henry Hawkins has a secret:

he owns the most successful bank in town, but his initial capital came from three successful stage coach robberies. Though he’s Denver’s most eligible bachelor, to protect his past, he’s built a fortress around his heart that no one can penetrate . . . until the day Dessa Caldwell strolls into his bank requesting a loan.

Though he’s certain her proposal is a bad investment, Henry is drawn to Dessa’s passion. But that same passion drives her to make rash decisions about Pierson House . . . and about whom she can trust. One man might hold the key to the future of her mission—but he also threatens to bring Henry’s darkest secrets to light. As the walls around their hearts begin to crumble, Henry and Dessa must choose between their plans and God’s, between safety and love.

This entry was posted in Book and Movie Reviews, encouragement for writers, Guest Authors, Sharpening Our Writing by Tamera Kraft. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tamera Kraft

Tamera Kraft has been a children’s pastor for over 20 years. She is the leader of a ministry called Revival Fire For Kids where she mentors other children’s leaders, teaches workshops, and is a children’s ministry consultant and children’s evangelist. She is also a writer and has curriculum published including Kid Konnection 5: Kids Entering the Presence of God published by Pathway Press. She is a recipient of the 2007 National Children’s Leaders Association Shepherd’s Cup for lifetime achievement in children’s ministry.

10 thoughts on “Maureen Lang – What’s the Best Teacher? Success or Failure?

  1. Loved this post. So true, so true. While it’s wonderful to know when we do something right, I find that failing in something really gets us to put our eyes on what we should be doing instead. Failure truly does guide us in ways that success can’t.

    • Thanks, Linda! You’re so right about failure guiding us in ways success can’t – I wonder which feeling is most memorable? The thrill of success or the cut of failure? I think it’s that sharp pain that makes us DO more to ease it, so perhaps that’s one reason failure gets us to look more closely at what we’re doing (or not doing).

  2. Yes, failure should prompt us to jump up and try, again. True failure only comes when someone crawls away in defeat. Failure might be a compared to a seed that’s buried–kind of sad when you think about it–but it’s what sprouts upward that counts. Sometimes I’ve felt “buried” but that should make me rebound and try harder. 🙂

  3. I think both can be humbling and transforming. Success simply because it is a mountaintop experience and we remember it. Failure because it rallies our courage to go out, try again and hopefully succeed. In my life, though, failure seems to teach me more mostly because I see the challenge in it. To dig deep inside yourself, realize there are unrealized talents and abilities, then using them to reach heights you never thought imaginable.

  4. I’m so enjoying all of the wisdom and experience from the comments! Thanks so much for sharing – and thanks again, Tamera, for having me.

  5. Had it not been for failure, I wouldn’t have looked for help with my writing. I wouldn’t have met Susan May Warren who gave me the tools to do it “write”. But, success is great, too–just don’t think we learn as much. Great post!

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