FAILURE – it’s such an icky word. Roll it around on your tongue, there’s no way to make it taste sweet. At a certain age, you can’t help but have a few failures on your life resume that perhaps still gnaw at you. I know I do. Sure, you try to see them as ‘opportunities’, but come on – they still burn.
I recently watched a TEDx presentation by Dr. Lisa Bliss entitled ‘No Failure in Trying’. Dr. Bliss is an accomplished physician who has run over 70 ultra-marathons and won Badwater. She takes the old question, “What would you do if you knew you would succeed?” and asks us to look at it differently:
“If you knew you could not fail at something, what is the point of the attempt? I think the best question is – What would you attempt if you thought you would fail, but there was a glimmer of hope or a chance in hell that perhaps you would succeed. What then would you do? The first question presumes that the possibility of failure is something we should try to avoid. And the second question presumes that the possibility of failure is going to be there, but that we should still try. Because there is no failure in trying…
Lisa speaks of training intensively for a wild pursuit for which she is pretty certain she will fail. She speaks of overcoming ego and deciding to tell friends and family of her goal – opening herself up to embarrassment and hurt pride. She speaks of learning to look at failure as a necessary and beautiful part of life.
Most of us grasp the Yin&Yang, the Light&Dark, the Good&Evil that balances our world. We come to accept (begrudgingly perhaps) that sadness is as integral to our life as happiness. But looking at – and truly honoring – failure as the necessary, flip side of success is a tricky mental exercise.
And yet, it’s so obvious. We fail from Day 1. Infants struggle (and fail) to turn over, but slowly they learn to. Toddlers try (and fail) to walk, but they get up and keep trying. As parents, we tell our kids daily – “Just try it…Don’t be scared!” But do we follow our own advice?
It’s been 2 years since I ‘failed’ in my Australia race. I can still feel the bitterness of watching the other racers cross the finish line. I was so disappointed in myself. I was so incredibly embarrassed. Ok, so you failed – NOW what?
I came home with a vengeance and trained for my first 50miler. That race felt so good, I signed up for a harder one with elevation. That forced me out to the mountains where I started learning the trails. At first I just followed my running friends who always picked the course and led the way, but slowly I began to venture out by myself. Just me and a map for hours – getting lost constantly, always coming home scraped up and with stories -but rediscovering a love of independence and being in the forest that I had forgotten since childhood. That incredible feeling turned into a business idea and Run Pretty Far was born.
When I connected all those dots the other day it was truly an ‘aha’ moment. Is this string of events too far-fetched? Perhaps…but I think not. I also feel pretty certain that if I had ‘succeeded’ in Australia my cockiness meter would have been through the roof and I would have been content to just coast with my running for a while. A different story that I’ll never know would have emerged – but frankly, I like the one I’m living. I like where that failure got me, and I like the hunger that it still fuels in me to do better and be more.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not looking for any ‘life lessons’ this time around. I want a win – pure and simple. But I’m glad that I’ve forced myself to look at failure through this lens and re-purpose its value in my life. As a mom and in my relationships, I have tiny failures everyday but even those are nothing but an opportunity to stop, breathe, and do better the very next time.
So go ahead – dream big, then fail bigger. Lick your wounds, then stand tall and let your next success be even sweeter….