Success or Failure? You Decide! Issue 20 of The Mockingbird Is Here

Even supposedly “spiritual success” may need redefining.

Mockingbird / 5.4.22

It’s hard to find anything — anything at all — about the topic of failure that doesn’t amount to some variation of “fail better,” or “fail your way to success.” But for most people “failing up” isn’t always an option, and success isn’t always good. As Min Jin Lee writes in her novel Pachinko, “You want to see a very bad man? Make an ordinary man successful beyond his imagination. Let’s see how good he is when he can do whatever he wants.”

In this issue of The Mockingbird, we explore the dark side of success and the bright side of failure. Not that we love failing — who does? “It was horrible at first,” says an unsuccessful inventor in a little-known Herman Melville story, “but I’m glad I’ve failed. Praise be to God for the failure!” Only when his life’s work proves ineffective is this character liberated from the mean clutches of aspiration. His face brightens with a “rapt earnestness” and he at last becomes “a good man,” praising God for his failure even on his deathbed. On a personal scale, it seems, success and failure often produce the effect that the other promises to.

“There is a resilient myth about what constitutes success,” says psychologist Madeline Levine, in her interview for this issue. “And that myth says: If you go to the right school, and you get the right grades, and then you go to the right college and choose the right field, and make a certain amount of money, then you will be successful.” But as a psychologist with 40 years of experience, Levine has found this myth completely misleading. Instead, what she calls “timeless values” — compassion, empathy, collaboration with others — are what make for a successful life. In his list “5 1/2 Habits of Remarkably Ineffective People,” Bill Borror suggests that maybe real success is “simply following the example of Jesus himself, who ‘came not to be served but to serve.’”

But even supposedly “spiritual success” may need redefining, as Grantland J. Rollins attests in a humorous essay about his covert mission to convert the Greeks (on campus). Tasha Genck Morton writes of failure in her own life as a minister; Grace Leuenberger investigates the counterintuitive “secret to success”; Bryan Jarrell dishes on the life of Alan Paton and the long, frustrating arc of history; and Todd D. Still, dean at Baylor’s Truett Seminary, explains how failure was the defining trait in the lives of both St. Paul and Jesus.

In addition to new poetry by Nate Klug and Stephen Sexton, this issue also includes advice from Sarah Condon; a sermon by David Zahl; fiction by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson; interviews with Ted Lasso’s Nick Mohammed, the musician Bruce Cockburn, and author Karen Wright Marsh; and essays by Ali Kjergaard, Karen Stiller, and Joseph McSpadden.


Pre-order this issue of The Mockingbird here, or subscribe here. Our team will be shipping out your magazines next week! 

Cover photograph by Tim Davis.




3 responses to “Success or Failure? You Decide! Issue 20 of The Mockingbird Is Here”

  1. […] — for an interview? And Canadian folk music legend Bruce Cockburn? Read the intro to Issue 20 here and check out the table of contents […]

  2. […] Issue 20 of The Mockingbird print magazine, which is all about success and failure. Find out more here, or subscribe […]

  3. […] 20 of The Mockingbird print magazine, which is all about success and failure. Find out more here, or […]

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