I’ve been thinking a lot about failure recently.
My athletes have been talking about it a lot. Several have experienced it in tragic, upsetting forms lately and grappled with how to deal with it “as quickly and easily as possible so I can get back to work” or “so I can free my head up again” or “so I can stop thinking about it and being scared of it”.
Failure is something we talk about in shallow, cliché terms without ever really scratching beyond the surface to acknowledge how painful, shocking and humiliating it can be, and yet we all face countless times on different scales throughout our entire lives.
If you’ve ever experienced a huge mistake or failure, what was your reaction when hearing the barrage of clichés launched your way upon any type of large scale, public failure?
You know, these types:
“Nowhere to go but up.”
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”
“Come back stronger!”
”Sharpened by fire.”
”There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
”You know better for next time.”
Personally, I hate all of those phrases. And many of my athletes do to.
They feel cheap, a sort of fake-hopeful catchphrase, something to grab onto when there are no words, but they don’t make it easier, don’t heal the wound or fix the problem.
When I listen to athletes talk about failure, what I really hear is this:
“I am sad, tired, upset, and a little bit scared. I just hope I can come back from this and never feel it again.”
And, underneath every single one of those cliché Failure Quotes is this exact same story.
What if we actually talked about failure like that?
What if we talked about the emotions and the hopes and the expectations and the anger and the fear of the future?
Everything that lives in this world, from microscopic cells to our bodies to giant trees, dies off at some point. It makes room for something new to grow. It prunes off the old, unhealthy stuff and leaves space for something new and living and colorful to expand there.
If we can look at failure as “that old thing didn’t work, so now it’s died off. Let’s invent something new”, I think we would have an easier time dealing with it and letting it go again.
But, first things first, failure needs to be felt.
Everyone experiences it; allow yourself (and your athletes) to experience and express failure in whatever emotional capacity the can or want to.
Then, failure must be reckoned with.
Get answers. What caused this result, and why? What system or option or plan needs to be set aside or revisited or reworked in order to allow newness and growth to close the cap between mistrials and success? How can we do better?
Then, do better.
The true key to dealing out failure is to never surrender to it.
Acknowledge, great, accept, and understand it, yes. But never surrender to it.
As Brené Brown says, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back into the arena.”
Luckily for us humans, failure isn’t death. And often it isn’t even dangerous. It hurts, and we need to experience that grief, but it’s just an answer.
It says “nope, not this. Let this go, and try again tomorrow.”
Without trauma and without “no”, we don’t have space for new stuff.
When we fail, deal with the feelings. Then ask “why?”. Then make something new.
How do you experience and reckon with failure?