The Shot That Missed

Charles Naylor, 1941

An archery contest was in progress. One after another the contestants stepped up to the line, took careful aim, and let their arrows fly at the target. Arrow after arrow embedded its point in the target, some near its center, others farther away. Finally one of the contestants who was waiting his turn stepped up to the mark, poised his arrow carefully upon the string of his bow, and with a look of confidence on his face, let it fly. Away it flew for the target, but alas, instead of striking in the center—it struck out near the edge of the target, farther from the center than any other arrow. He had missed. He had done the poorest of any of the contestants.

Some of the spectators smiled covertly. Others laughed aloud at his poor shot. Some looked at him in surprise, for they had expected a good shot from him. But he had missed. He had failed of his purpose and now he stood before them chagrined, humiliated, ridiculed. How natural, under the circumstances, that he should feel discouraged! How natural that he should say within himself, "Well, I shall never try again. I shall never allow myself to be humiliated publicly again. If I cannot do better than that, then I will stop practicing archery altogether."

Would he be wise to do this? Should he not rather inquire why the arrow missed the mark? Why did he so fail in his purpose? Was he careless in his aim or in the manner of his shooting—or was there a flaw in his arrow? Perhaps the feathers on his arrow were not arranged properly, or possibly the bowstring slipped at one end. Perhaps a gust of wind caught the arrow and drove it out of its course. Was it his fault or was it a contingency against which he could not be prepared? Perhaps the miss was not his fault.

You and I, reader, may never have been archers and may never have observed such a contest—but we are engaged in life's contest. In our lives, we can look back, doubtless, upon many shots that missed. Many of our endeavors have brought us only failure. We have felt the humiliation of failure. We have felt the heart-burning that has come with the ridicule from others, the scornful smile, the pitying look, or perhaps the contemptuous sneer.

Oh, yes, you know how it feels to fail. You know how discouraging it is. Your hopes were high, your expectations kindled, your confidence assured, and then—you failed. The shot missed the target. You did not attain the expected result.

Perhaps you tried to help someone. You said or did just what you thought would be the best, but you missed the mark. You saw and felt that you had failed. You went away discouraged, and that discouragement stood in the way of your using your next opportunity or perhaps several opportunities to do something further. You realized you had done your best, but you had failed. You are keenly aware of it. The fact stands before you like a mountain.

Again you attempted to do something. Perhaps it was on an altogether different line. This time some weakness in yourself manifested itself just when you needed your strength most, and you failed. Your purpose was good, but you failed.

More than likely you have had a thousand such experiences in your life. You realize you have failed in many things. Sometimes you have not been able to carry out your intentions. Sometimes unexpected circumstances have arisen to dash your plans to the ground. Sometimes other people have consciously or unconsciously thrown hindrances in your way. Sometimes your own weaknesses or your faults or your carelessness, your lack of forethought, your unwise methods, or something else brought your hopes and purposes in a wreck at your feet.

There is always humiliation and discouragement in failure, whether that failure results from our own faults or from things quite beyond our control or something we could not foresee. We often fail because we do not know all the forces that are working and cannot foresee the contingencies that we must face. Sometimes we fail and do not know why we fail.

What shall we do when we fail? Fold our arms and sit in idleness with downcast head and discouraged hearts? Ah, no, there is a better way. The old saying is, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Unless we follow this motto in our life, we shall inevitably fail to be all we ought to be and all we may be. Life is usually made of successes and failures. No one can hope always to succeed. No one can hope that all his efforts shall be fruitful. We know too well the weakness and inefficiency of humanity to believe that we can always win.

Success depends upon so many things, that we are likely to overlook some of them. The thing we overlook is very often so essential, that there can be no success without it. Sometimes we fail because there are factors in the case of which we do not know. Not knowing them, we cannot provide against them. Sometimes we think we are stronger or wiser or more able than we are.

Sometimes we fail when we feel we ought not to have failed. This is the kind of failure that stings us most. No matter what sort of failure we make, or how great that failure—there is one thing we ought never to do, but it is very natural to do this very thing. It is so natural that we will find ourselves doing it before we realize it. That thing is to condemn ourselves. Perhaps we have been to blame for our failure. Heaping condemnation upon ourselves is not going to help matters even in such a case. Meet the things as they are, but do not become your own persecutor.

Instead of being discouraged by our failures, we should summon our resolution. We should determine that we will not be balked, that our lives shall not be failures—then we shall conquer our weaknesses and our faults.