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Fail Better

Posted Jan 15 2013 12:05pm

Failure has been on my mind a lot lately. Not just the fear of it, but the actual, raw experience of failing. Both the tiny failures that I seem to make every single day and the large ones that (in the moment) make it seem as though life as you know it is now over.

It’s funny how as you grow older your definition of failure (and by association, success) changes. When I was younger, failure was so black and white. An “A” on a test, placing at a cross country meet, acceptance into a good school – these were the successes I measured my life by.

These days, it’s not so concrete. I try to measure success in life by the bigger picture. Do my best to not get caught up in the small failures of everyday. To not let myself be defined by inconsequential things like whether I can run a certain weekly mileage, make X amount of money, or boast impressive race PRs. To really live the way that I vowed I would in 2013.

But change takes time and sometimes, no matter how hard you try to not get bogged down, the crap piles up on you. Your list of recent failures (big and small) seems a mile long and all-encompassing. And you start to think that failure is the only thing that defines you.

baking fail_cinnamon raisin breadBaking fail: “homemade cinnamon raisin bread” aka “a hard dense rock of semi-sweet bread-like substance”

Yesterday was one of those days. A day when I sat, immobilized by my failures — the failure to reach my goals, failure to help my family in the way that I want, failure to contribute to society in any meaningful sort of way, and (ironically) my overall failure to stop focusing on the negative.

In other words, I was having a major pity party.

I will pause for a moment to mention that the logical side of me realized how silly I was being. I know that I am not defined by my failures and that, in the scheme of life, these recent failures over which I’m currently stressing are not that major. They are not life-threatening, or ending, or crippling. They are just LIFE. But logic doesn’t always prevail, and instead of being able to rationalize your way out of a pity party, some days you just really need a win.

So as I sat there feeling sorry for myself and angry at a world that is anything but fair, I finally convinced myself to lace up my running shoes. Not expecting much out of the run, but determined to at least take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and abundant sunshine.

snowy trail

The run started off just exactly the way you’d expect on a day when nothing seems to be going right. I stepped in dog poop, was unable to get it all out of the crevices of my running shoes, and ended up with poo on my leg because of my awful tendency to kick myself with my heels while I’m running. Disgusting, but oh so fitting.

Determined to not let this stinky setback derail an otherwise perfect day for running, I kept plugging away. I spent the remainder of that run thinking about failures. And two funny things happened. First – I found my thoughts turning away from the negative and instead toward all those past “failures” that were actually success in disguise.  All those many failures that seemed bad at first, but resulted in some really amazing life changes.

  • Like my failure to succeed at any other sport as a child (I had my heart set on being a gymnast but was completely inflexible; a dancer but too uncoordinated; a soccer player but was afraid of the ball), which eventually led to the discovery of and love affair with running. And all the many successes that have come since.
  • Or the failure to get into UNC’s public health program (the school I wanted most and, as it happened, the only one that did not accept me) that led me to Brown and ultimately to Evan (as did the failures of many past relationships).
  • The failure to keep myself injury free last year which led to a rekindled passion for running — as well as a changed stride and new choice of footwear that has totally changed my running life (and made running feel better than ever).
  • And the failure to find a way to sustain my job in Rhode Island last June which led to a move up to Vermont and a new way of life in the absolute best state in the US (based on my totally non-biased expert opinion after 7 full months of living here).

All failures that looked suspiciously a whole lot like success with the perspective of a little time.

Second – the more I thought about failure, the faster I started running. I don’t know if it was actually the warm temperatures, the fact that I took several days off from running in order to ski all weekend, or if there truly was something in my sub-conscious mind that converted a rumination on failure into the absolute best run I’ve had in months. But whatever the reason, I felt stronger and happier out there running than I have in a really long time. And my splits showed it:

7 miles in 53:22 (8:19, 8:01, 8:12, 7:36, 7:21, 7:15, 6:35!).

Ironically — I finally got the win I so desperately craved after I realized that I no longer needed it.

winter sunset

Sometimes failure sucks. And sometimes it seems overwhelming. But rarely is failure for nothing. Many successful people fail over and over again before that finally leads to their success. Usually failure means that you at least tried. And after all — wouldn’t you rather live a life where you tried and failed than one in which you tried at nothing at all?

I know that this year, like years past and all the years to come, will be full of failure. And I need to accept that it’s okay.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.  ~Samuel Beckett  {emphasis mine}

And so my goal for this year is not to avoid failure. It is not to be successful in everything I do, or only attempt those things in which my success is guaranteed.

Instead, my goal is to try again, to fail again, and ultimately to fail better.

Failure leads to strength. It leads to open windows, overlooked opportunities, growth of character, and perseverance.

In other words, it leads to sweet success.

A life without failure is boring. So don’t be afraid to fail. Just strive to fail better.


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