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Faith + Works: School of Communications Professor Jessica Zurcher Explains How Failure Leads to Fulfillment

Jessica Zurcher Used Her Own Failures as a Backdrop to Illustrate How Trials Can Encourage Spiritual and Intellectual Growth.

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Jessica Zurcher, an assistant professor for BYU’s School of Communications, presented as part of the 2022 Faith + Works lecture series on Dec. 1, with the theme of “Failing Forward: Exploring the Role of Major Setbacks in a Faith Journey.”

Zurcher shared a story where she conquered failure in a production of “The Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare.

Zurcher received harsh critiques on her performance and realized she had two options: quit or commit. She chose to dedicate herself to the performance and learned several valuable lessons because of it.

“Whether it’s negative feedback or a hard experience in life, we can use this to push ourselves to the next level,” Zurcher said.

Zurcher focused on three ways failure can spur growth. Failure provides “revise and resubmit” opportunities to advance performance, inspires unintended but extraordinary innovation and deepens connections with God.

REVISE AND RESUBMIT OPPORTUNITIES

In her earlier years of employment, Zurcher said she was struggling to publish an article after being rejected multiple times. She reached out to a former mentor at the University of Utah who gave her some life-changing advice.

In Zurcher’s words, her mentor told her, “‘You just need to hang in there and know that rejection and being slammed is the name of the game. Brush it off and move forward, knowing that you are following in the footsteps of so many other academics.’”

Zurcher learned through this experience that the process of revising and resubmitting can allow for greater levels of growth and understanding. She has been able to implement this lesson into her job as a professor.

UNINTENDED, EXTRAORDINARY INNOVATION

Zurcher explained that her failures and revisions have led to more significant progress and growth. She and Robert Walz, a current professor of Public Relations at BYU, collaborated on a social media ministering project and were faced with many challenges.

“We would both get to the point where we just decided, ‘You know what, we’ll just step away,’” Zurcher said. “And without fail, almost every time we came to this point, something would happen...to move us forward.”

Zurcher and Walz, through personal revelation and many failures, found more effective ways to develop social media as a tool for ministering. Their efforts were put to good use, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when online ministering was one of the main forms of missionary work.

DEEPENED CONNECTIONS WITH GOD

Zurcher explained how relationships with God can be strengthened through trials. She conducted a study about people who experienced a crisis of faith and why they decided to come back.

She outlined five types of messages that resonated with people who returned to their faith. First, there was the group of “resilient God-seekers,” who experienced a heartbreaking trial and sought to feel God’s light in their life again. Second, there were the “forgivers,” who experienced frustration with certain aspects of their religion but eventually prioritized their faith.

Third, the “self-compassionates” were those who worried about their worth or someone else’s worth but learned to let go of the belief that God was judgmental. Fourth, there was the “fellowship,” a group of people who struggled to find their place in their religious community but found it through their peers. Finally, the “marathon runners” experienced trials that isolated them from others but learned to accept help in their difficulties.

Each group of people may have experienced different trials in their faith crises, but Zurcher found a few important similarities. A vast majority of these groups felt God’s love while overcoming their crisis and felt that the experience improved their relationship with God and their faith. Additionally, all of the participants of the study said God was a central part of their solution.

This discovery was powerful to Zurcher because it showed that failures and crises can have a significant impact on people. “There’s hope in the struggle itself,” Zurcher said.

Zurcher outlined four patterns of developing spiritual resiliency that she found through the survey and through President Russell M. Nelson’s recent talks. These patterns were to remember the purpose of your mortal experience, express gratitude when turmoil arises, find opportunities to hear God and seek and expect miracles.

Zurcher closed with an assurance that failure is an essential part of both spiritual and intellectual development. She explained that failures can help people “to learn, to grow, but more importantly to strengthen [their] relationship with our Heavenly Father and His son, Jesus Christ.”

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Jessica Zurcher explains how God had a hand in the social media ministering project she and Professor Robert Walz collaborated on.

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