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“Why you should learn from your failures.” With Dr. Ely Weinschneider & Nathan Elson

I love failure. It is something that I lean on for personal growth and for the growth of the teams I have led. Because of the pragmatic approach I take, I never assume things are going to work out, not that I expect them to fall apart, either. But I start with the presumption that […]

I love failure. It is something that I lean on for personal growth and for the growth of the teams I have led. Because of the pragmatic approach I take, I never assume things are going to work out, not that I expect them to fall apart, either. But I start with the presumption that I do not have all the answers, things will change, and we will need to test all that we do to figure out the best way forward. So failure for me is both an inevitability and something to celebrate. It means we tried, something didn’t work out, and we get to learn. NOW — I do differentiate between failure and mistakes. Mistakes can be avoided, failure cannot.


As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nathan Elson.

For over two decades, Nathan R. Elson has waded chest-deep into the depths of marketing and technology, spanning a wide pool of projects and responsibilities. His influence has been felt in multinational corporations, Christian denominations, software, and high-tech research as well as local churches and small businesses. Specializing in branding, product launches, and building marketing programs from the ground up, Nathan’s passion is for people, including the people who do marketing.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

That is a long and sordid tale of failure, mistakes, and opportunism. I graduated college with a degree that would either lead me to law or academia. I ended up choosing neither and got a job recruiting during the .COM era. In the midst of that I found faith, started serving in church, and had an opportunity to work for a mid-size Christian denomination. Through that experience I was able to earn my Masters and grow so much. From there I found myself doing branding, product launches, and marketing across multiple industries and serving churches. Eventually that led me to be part of the executive team at a very large church, and then to my current role as Chief Marketing Officer & Executive Director of Marketing and Business Development at CDF Capital.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I would love to say that it was a resolute classic, or an anthem of the business world, but I would say it was a series of novels by Isaac Asimov more than anything else. Now, to be sure, I am a huge fan of science fiction as a genre — not just of the pulp Star Wars variety — and the social commentary guised in future scenarios. When I first read the Foundation series (the original trilogy and final two add-ons), I was introduced to characters and a train of thought that had a profound effect on me. It introduced me to a reduced pragmatism — the story that unfolded was one of inevitable cataclysm and the desires of individuals to curb that any way they could. Even the antagonists had the same end — so the conflict was not ideological or classic good vs. evil; it was about methods and sacrifice. At the end of the saga, one man chose to sacrifice what he felt to be true, for what he knew would save the most lives. This pragmatism stuck with me, and has served me well over the years.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Innovation. Years from now this could be viewed as one of most innovative times in the history of America, depending on our use of time. The CDC and health experts are asking us to do our part to flatten the curve in hopes of slowing down the effects of COVID-19. At CDF Capital, we are asking our network to respond not only in love, hope, and joy to the present crisis but also — to innovate and take action. We recognize that it’s more than just being able to conduct business as usual. It’s an opportunity to implement new and alternative ways to expand their reach into their communities, but also beyond. Though the global response to this virus seems daunting, it could be viewed as serendipitous — a little chaos for our world to pause and give rise to new best practices. We are embracing that internally as well, and asking, “How can we use this opportunity to be better?”

Community spirit and acts of kindness. Despite social distancing, isolation, and self quarantine keeping people apart, communities have also been reaching out in new ways during this time of need to provide for practical needs, as well as offer support and encouragement in big and small ways. All over the world, acts of kindness and solidarity have raised spirits. Among our network of ministries, we are supporting their efforts to assist their communities by offering a forbearance program to qualifying organizations. We want to make it possible for them to continue to serve and give hope, everything from drive-in movies in their parking lots to online church services to addressing food insecurity issues by offering free groceries to delivering medication to senior citizens.

Environmental Impact. This crisis is having a massive impact on global economies, but the environmental impact is invaluable. In a matter of months, experts have confirmed a significant drop in air pollution, which kills over 4 millions people annually worldwide. In a matter of months, there have been notable improvements in air quality from China to Italy and in metropolitan areas around the U.S. This reduction in carbon emissions simultaneously world-wide seemed like an impossible feat, but now we know that cooperation on this scale would and does make a difference. And it doesn’t take a lot of time to see the effects, and that a little goes a long way.

Enduring Faith. On a recent Sunday, The Church Online Platform, operated by Life.Church, saw online Church attendance quadruple with a total of 4.7 million devices streaming church services — four times the average attendance for a typical weekend. In a time where many are losing hope with everything going on in the world, in the same way hospitals are meeting physical needs of the sick, it is encouraging to me to see many ministries and non-profit entities innovating and taking action to continue to lend a hand, leveraging technology to serve and meet spiritual and emotional needs. We are honored to be able to partner with organizations using their resources in these ways across the country to ensure this happens.

Unprecedented Generosity. Now is the time for individuals and entities with the capacity to rise to the occasion and extend generosity in unprecedented ways for the greater good. At CDF Capital, we created a Church Assistance Program (CAP-19) offering in excess of $5.25 million in relief to more than 150 churches across the United States. Every network church with a loan in good standing is eligible to receive payment deferrals in the form of six months interest-only or six months of payments reduced by 33%. This is a first in our 67 year history, but we want to help them sustain, grow and offer life-changing programs that are desperately needed during this nationwide and global crisis. As part of CAP-19, we have also issued a call to action among our network to make a difference by sharing innovation stories and best practices developed during this time to spur and encourage anyone in a position to give to do so directly to their local churches. We also offer opportunities for eligible individuals to be part of impactful solutions; information and blogs about this can be found at www.cdfcapital.org.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Ask how you can help. Anxiety can affect people in very different ways. What can be helpful for some people may not be for others; ask what you can do rather than handing out advice. They may not be able to tell you exactly how you can help, but it’s good to allow them to try.

Be Available. Let them know you’re right there with them, and reassure them that you will be there beyond that moment. Letting them know they are not alone, and that they don’t have to deal with this alone, can act as real reassurance.

Help them make a plan. Focus on things they can do in that moment to help relieve the anxiety: breathing exercises and prayer (with and for them) oftentimes brings immediate relief. Then, support them in making a plan for the things that can be done immediately to make progress on whatever is causing the stress. Check up on them and celebrate their small victories.

Offer support, but let them choose. A good principle to keep in mind is that support means helping someone help themselves, and not doing things for them. Easier said than done, but leaving the choice to them is critical, or they may never overcome avoidance, which is at the core of anxiety. I have kept this in mind over the years while leading and mentoring my teams.

Encourage support resources. There are a range of support options available, local and national, from self-help resources to support groups to private therapy and more. There are even peer-led support groups where they will find others who have experienced what they experience. The key is ensuring they know there is hope and that there are many organizations out there ready to assist them anytime day or night.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

Kay Warren is co-founder of Saddleback Church, a global megachurch based in Irvine, California and I have so much respect and admiration for her and her husband, Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life. In 2013, their 27-year old son Matthew ended his life. The unspeakable devastation from that experience led to the creation of the The Hope for Mental Health Ministry. It emphasizes journeying alongside people living with mental illness, including depression and anxiety, and their families in a holistic way. Positive truths, to combat a negative message that holds people back from moving toward hope, are conveyed: you are loved, you have a purpose, you belong, you have a choice, and you are needed. Downloadable free resources and more information are available through the Saddleback Church website.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I love failure. It is something that I lean on for personal growth and for the growth of the teams I have led. Because of the pragmatic approach I take, I never assume things are going to work out, not that I expect them to fall apart, either. But I start with the presumption that I do not have all the answers, things will change, and we will need to test all that we do to figure out the best way forward. So failure for me is both an inevitability and something to celebrate. It means we tried, something didn’t work out, and we get to learn. NOW — I do differentiate between failure and mistakes. Mistakes can be avoided, failure cannot.

I’ve always resonated with Samuel Beckett’s quote for Westward Ho: “Ever tried. Ever Failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

And not as an inspirational mantra (which that quote has often been used for), but as a description of the inevitability of failure, how it should drive us to continue to grow and not let that failure be a hindrance to us.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Beyond the Gospel message of Christ, which I believe is the most effective way to change lives, it would be around how people view themselves and failure. It may sound redundant, but I truly believe that so many of us get hung up on doing great things because of our inherent fear of failure. If I could find a way to instill people with faith in God and themselves, enough to see failure as a natural state and therefore not to be feared, I truly believe the world could be changed for better. EVERYONE has the capacity to do so much positive and to have great ideas, thoughts, and stories that could help so many. I guess the first step for that movement would be myself, right?

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Instagram at @nathanrelson, LinkedIn and also, I invite anyone to head to the CDF Capital website where I share some insights in the BLOG section. My last post, “4 Key Learnings,” is about responding in hope, love, and joy during this time of crisis.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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