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Lets Talk About Failure!

My mentor, Jason Young, a former social worker from the Department of Veterans Affairs, once told me it was okay to fail. Then, he proceeded to share with me every failure he had ever encountered. Thirty minutes later, he concluded his exhaustive list, and it was, without a doubt, the most inspirational dialogue I had ever absorbed.

As an ex-Marine, ingrained with the ethos that failure was not an option, I had spent years attempting to downplay, diminish, or entirely hide every failure since my initiation into the Marines in 1998. This mindset was a shield, one that I thought made me stronger, more resilient. But at this juncture in my life, I found myself broken, sad, and spiritually diminished after returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s, having served in both the Marine Corps and the Army.

Jason’s narrative was a revelation. It was a beacon in the profound darkness that had enveloped me since leaving the service. His failures weren't just mistakes; they were stepping stones, each one a chapter in the greater story of resilience and redemption. He spoke of professional setbacks, personal losses, and the myriad times he felt he'd let himself or others down. Yet, with each failure, Jason emphasized not the fall, but the rise that followed—the lessons learned, the strength gained, and the humility fostered.

His openness about failure challenged my ingrained perceptions. Where I saw failure as an end, Jason depicted it as a beginning—a necessary precursor to growth. His stories resonated deeply, echoing through the voids of my own experiences. I began to see my own failures not as blemishes on my character but as integral parts of my journey, each one an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to emerge stronger.

This shift in perspective was transformative. Embracing failure, rather than evading it, allowed me to confront my vulnerabilities head-on. It gave me permission to be imperfect, to experiment, and to take risks without the paralyzing fear of falling short. This newfound freedom was exhilarating; it was as if I had been given a second chance, not just professionally, but in all aspects of life.

Jason’s mentorship, rooted in the candid sharing of his failures, became a cornerstone of my recovery and growth. It taught me that our setbacks do not define us; rather, our response to them does. This lesson was a lifeline, pulling me from the depths of despair and setting me on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.

In sharing Jason's wisdom, I hope to extend the same lifeline to others. Failure is not the antithesis of success; it is its most vital ingredient. Embracing our failures, learning from them, and persevering in the face of adversity is what shapes us into resilient, empathetic, and wise individuals. Jason Young, through his openness and vulnerability, illuminated this truth, transforming my understanding of failure and, ultimately, of myself.

He concluded our conversation with a powerful notion that failure, indeed, knocks us all down but harbors a universal remedy. Then, with a voice that seemed to command the very essence of resilience, as if channeling the strength of the ages, he uttered in a god-like tone, "Stand up, young man, stand up!"

These simple words, spoken with such commanding force, pierced through the fog of my despair like a beacon of light. It was a call to action, a call to reject the inertia of defeat and to embrace the dynamism of perseverance. Jason's voice, resonant with authority and compassion, seemed to awaken something primal within me—a dormant willpower I had all but forgotten.

"Stand up, young man, stand up!" wasn't just an instruction; it was a proclamation, a declaration that regardless of how formidable the setback, the strength to overcome it lies within us. It was a reminder that standing up, both literally and metaphorically, is the first step toward turning the tide of our battles with failure.

This moment marked a turning point for me. It wasn't just about recovering from the failures of my past but about redefining my approach to the challenges that lay ahead. The concept of standing up became a metaphor for my life's new mantra: facing adversity with courage, learning from each stumble, and rising stronger with each fall.

Jason's words have since echoed in my mind during moments of doubt and defeat, serving as a rallying cry to summon the courage to stand, even when standing feels impossible. His wisdom taught me that the true measure of a person is not how often they fall, but how often they rise.

In the grand narrative of our lives, failure will inevitably play its part, but it is our response to failure that defines our character. "Stand up, young man, stand up!"—a simple yet profound directive, has become a foundational pillar upon which I've rebuilt my life, a constant reminder that every fall is but a precursor to a rise, and every failure, an opportunity for growth.

-Brandon R. Washington MBA, MSW, LCSW-BCD

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