Normalizing Failure

Photo Cred: Amy Humphries

The number of times in my life that I have done anything at all, perfectly is approximately zero. I’ve done some things well, other things even better, but nothing in life have I executed or carried out perfectly. As a matter of fact, some things I’ve attempted in life… many things… I’ve absolutely failed in. I’ve failed to show up for friends and family when they’ve needed me. Failed in carrying out duties at work. Failed in my workouts and fitness life at times which I take pretty seriously as a lifestyle and habit.

And yet through my failures I’ve learned. Overcome. Transitioned. And grown. Through my failures I’ve seen things from a new perspective I didn’t know mattered. Through my failures I’ve been able to stand up and try again.

John Maxwell, a bestselling author and expert on leadership says, “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.”

Applying this concept to my life, I’d like to introduce the idea of failure being quite normal even freeing. Because in failure we get the chance and opportunity to try again and overcome.

An example of this could be a child learning how to read or trying a sport for the first time. It would be insane to expect that child to perform a new task perfectly. The beauty of being a child is they are given the right (for the most part) to make mistakes in things, learn consequences if there are any, and get better.

I remember my first swim meet ever, I was 7 years old, maybe 8, and was supposed to swim a 25-yard breaststroke. I got to the end of the lane and popped my head up, thrilled to see I had won. For all of 3 seconds when the person running the timer in my lane said I was disqualified. I actually swam freestyle, not breaststroke. Oops! I learned the lesson and never made the mistake again I don’t think through all my years on a swim team. I had failed. But no one held it against me.

So why would we hold failure against ourselves as adults? Why do we take such considerable strides to HIDE failure on social media and with friends and family? I’m all about putting our best foot forward in life, but what if that is actually crippling us at the end of the day rather than living authentically with our stories of not being where we want to be yet that could be encouraging and helpful to so many people.

I submit to you now that failure is more normal than carrying out any task in life perfectly.

I’d like to see failure normalized, not hidden behind pretty social media posts and trying to hide our faults and failures to the enormous extent that we do.

Another example comes from my own life with working out and Triathlons. I used to compete in regularly 1 to 2 times a year in Triathlons around the northeast of the US in new cities and towns each race. My first year I had a HORRIBLE race time. I put so much effort into training and making a goal time for the race, yet I completely blew it the day of the race. I briefly thought to myself “I’m not made to do Tris.” I almost gave up this hobby and lifestyle because of a bad race. It took about two weeks until I missed the swimming, biking, and running and chose instead to say, “Well, it seems I have a lot to learn and become better in with regards to workouts and training. I can do better next time.”

I think giving into the first statement, “I’m just not made to do this” isn’t going to help me win and become better at the next thing I choose to focus my time and energy on. It isn’t going to help me succeed. It isn’t going to help me really at all. Though I failed in reaching all of my goals that first race, I chose instead to see my end time as a reason to adjust, get educated on workouts, include other people in my training by talking to a couple of other athletes who had done way more racing than I ever have.

I chose to realize that “failure” was just a matter of personal definition, not an absolute that determined an end to something that I really enjoyed— in this case swimming, biking, and running—despite my slow pace and poor choices in the race that really set me back.

Normalizing failure for any and all can be a way to rethink failure in general. If you personally “did bad” in something— could be anything from baking a cake that turned out horribly that you meant to give to someone for a special occasion, to showing disruptive and “bad” behavior at an event that in retrospect you realize you shouldn’t have acted that way—and you choose instead to learn grow and change based off of that perceived failure, have you really failed at all?

I don’t know a single person on planet earth that has done ANYTHING perfectly in life. But everyone I know has messed up in big or small ways around me my whole life, including myself, and the world still moves on.

Instead of getting caught up with our failures, beating ourselves up, ruminating on went wrong, what if instead we chose to focus on the positive that might be a result of that failure? What if that time we didn’t show up as we should for someone we learn the art of apologizing and making amends? What if we recognize that no matter how old we are, we are fallible human beings and failing is a part of life. Failing is actually… normal… and can bring about positive change including overcoming obstacles and achieving greatness in some area.

This new year, let’s embrace our “failures” as we might call them and realize that as Maxwell said, “The only guarantee for failure is if we stop trying.”

As long as you admit the mistake, change the course, make a new decision next time you’re faced with a problem or dilemma that you “failed in” then truly failure isn’t the end of the story.

I’m sure many people are making new year’s resolutions and vowing changes for 2021. Let’s not see 2020 as a failure, but a year of learning and growth. Let’s choose to walk into 2021 refreshed for amazing opportunities that if we keep going, don’t give up, and try again in we can have the greatest personal success imaginable, no matter what our goals are be them relational, financial, spiritual, physical, or any area of life that you may be holding onto failure in.

There is always hope. There is always room for growth and change. There is always a new time to keep the faith and change the course for better next time. At the end of the day, without failure we will never fully understand the deep feelings that success brings.

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