Do you embrace failures? Do you welcome setbacks? Do you lose your job and think, “Wow, thank you, Lord!” The chances are very high that you answered “NO!” to all of those questions, but in this week’s blog, Sheeba Philip invites you to shift your mindset around setbacks, failures, and times of feeling like your world has been turned upside down, and learn to enter into a viewpoint that God is and always has been in the driver’s seat and this low point in your life is an opportunity for Him to bless you onto an even better path.
You can listen to this entire conversation with Sheeba on our podcast, Driven 4word! Listen below or click here to find your preferred listening platform.
What do you think the purpose of setbacks is in our lives and in God’s plan for our lives?
I lost my job many years ago when I was an executive at JCPenney. Up until that point, I had never had a mediocre performance review. I had always been promoted faster than I had anticipated I might be. God just blessed and blessed me in my work. I get to JCPenney, and I am the Vice President of Marketing. I’m asked to help transform a very iconic brand and long story short, it did not go as well as I had hoped.
I was asked to step down from my role because they were going to do a big restructuring of the executive team. That was a really tough moment, receiving that news and going home. It marked the beginning of an almost two-year journey of processing that failure and that setback with God. What I learned was that God really wanted to tell me through that failure that I was His daughter first, not a vice president of marketing or potential CMO or business strategist. Yes, those are things God was asking me to do in participation with Him. At the end of the day, my identity does not rest on what I do or how I perform.
During that time of processing the loss of my job at JCPenney, the number one thing God had to get my mind wrapped around was identity. My identity had always been defined by my work and what I did. In those early career days, I would go to a cocktail party and when someone would ask, “What do you do?”, I would answer, “Well, I’m Vice President of Marketing at JCPenney. I’m part of a turnaround team. I’m leading the brand.” After that moment of losing my job, I didn’t know what to say at those parties anymore.
God kept putting me in these very uncomfortable and awkward moments because He was forcing me to let go of that identity so that I could get to a place of humility to say, “I’m not doing anything right now. I’m in transition.” So for me, the failure and the setback was for that opportunity to get clarity on my true identity.
The other reason I think God allows setbacks and failure is He wants to kind of halt us because we aren’t depending on Him, or we are doing something through a selfish motivation or ambition with a heart posture that just isn’t right. And God’s way of loving us is to put the brakes on our situation before we self-destruct. For me, my work was becoming toxic. I was approaching work through a need of striving. I was burnt out, stressed, and frankly, dysfunctional. I think the Lord finally had to put the failure into play and have me lose my job so that I could really understand that I wasn’t being a servant leader. I had lost why I was doing what I was doing. My leadership wasn’t coming out of a place of love, or a place of dependency on God and humility. God needed to pull away my job at JCPenney to break my pride and to help me get to a place of Christ-centered leadership that I had lost for a while.
Thanks to the tumultuousness of the last couple of years, many people are likely in the same “cocktail party answer” position that you were in. But how many of those people were potentially saved from trajectories that they were never meant for and are now headed toward God’s true path for them?
Failure allows you to rethink and revisit your identity in Christ. It breaks you of some pride and probably some dysfunctions that you’ve been operating in, like me in my experience. But I think failure is also a way to course-correct and get you on the right path. I think about the role I got to have at Akola, running an early stage venture and having an incredible experience building an early stage company. I never would’ve done that had I not lost my job at JCPenney. So, so much of setback is a setting up of the next step. If we look at setback that way, it can be incredibly exciting.
How can we get into a headspace of accepting a change in direction, instead of constantly fighting against it and mourning the loss of a path we thought was our future?
Like Cheryl Bachelder said last month, in God’s economy, nothing is wasted. No, nothing is wasted. There’s a beautiful scripture where Isaiah talks about the last three years being regarded as a waste of time, but then he says, “I will take heart because the Lord will ultimately reward me.” The idea of “nothing is wasted” was the underpinning of that.
We lay seeds and foundations in an organization, and then we may have to leave through failure or our own decision to leave. In those moments, we have to believe in God’s economy. Those things have still been planted and even though we may not see the harvest in our time there, we still have to believe nothing is wasted, and that there is fruit that will be born. Even when you’re faithful and you feel like you’ve honored God, there will still be failure. You could be doing everything right, honoring God, submitting to Him, leading with humility, and being faithful…and you will still fail. And in that moment, the encouragement I have for you is that nothing is wasted. That commitment to God was not wasted, and those seeds you planted are going to bear fruit. It may not be when you want, but God in His grace might allow you to see it at some point.
Sheeba Philip has built a 25 year career leading purpose-driven brands and businesses at startup, mid-size and Fortune 50 companies, as well as across retail, CPG, and non-profit sectors. Her experience leading big and small businesses across multiple industries has given her deep expertise in brand marketing & communications, ESG strategy, and global operations. Sheeba has managed multi-million dollar P&Ls ($700MM+) and transformed multi-billion dollar iconic brands ($12 Billion+). She has revitalized consumer brands in mature categories through redesigning brand marketing, product assortment, and customer experience. Sheeba leveraged her Fortune 50 experience to also establish start-ups for growth. She has built and led organizations with an international footprint across East Africa, Latin America, and South/Southeast Asia.
Sheeba’s leadership and work have been recognized by outlets such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, NY Times, BuzzFeed, People, PR Daily, and Vogue. She is a member of the Kraft Heinz Creative Council, a select group of brand leaders across industries that provide strategic counsel on the company’s marketing & advertising initiatives. Sheeba was featured on InStyle Magazine’s 2021 List of “50 Women Making The World A Better Place”. Sheeba is passionate about integrating her faith and work. She is a board member for Redeemer City to City, a global ministry founded by Tim Keller. She is also is an advisor for faith-driven entrepreneurs and regularly speaks on brand building and Christ-centered leadership. She holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Virginia and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
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