(I’ll probably get in trouble for this post. Only read if you take responsibility for the consequences.)
Every performance field makes a big deal of failure. Look it up.
Failure is how we learn!
Fail! Fail! Fail!
I typed “You should fail” into duckduckgo and the top responses were:
- “8 Reasons Why You Should Fail As Much As You Can”
- “Why You Should Fail”
- “This is Why You Should Fail | Will Smith”
- “You Should Fail, And Fail As Often As You Can”
I agree. I don’t think of failure as the old mainstream definition. Failure is a learning experience. If you never fail, you’ll never know or reach your potential.
I could go on but you can search the web and find millions of posts that laud failure.
I’m no hero, but the company I founded and that I put everything I had into nearly went bankrupt and the investors kicked me out. The experience devastated me and led me to question the meanings of things like trust, honesty, what it meant to be human or in a relationship, and teamwork.
In every area that hurt me, my skills are stronger now as a result: trust, relationships, teamwork, and so on.
Some people have never failed. I don’t know of any person who succeeded more than me by their standards who failed less than I did.
One year, stretching before the marathon started—in fact, while they counted down the starting cannon—I pulled something in my lower back. It popped so loud I looked at everyone around me to see if they heard. It hurt like crazy.
The New York City marathon takes tens of minutes to start after the cannon, so I stood there trying to figure out what happened and what I should do. If I stood still it hurt mildly. If I put weight on my right leg, a burning nerve pain shot up my spine and down my right arm, like when you hit your funny bone, but harder, like on fire. It made it hard to breathe, like when you get hit in the solar plexus.
But I’d trained months to run this race. I was at the starting line. What could I do? I wasn’t going to not at least try to run.
I took a few painful steps. The breathing issue led me to experiment. I found that tightening my ab muscles helped. Then I found that tightening them as hard as I could made the shooting nerve pain not so bad.
So I ran 26.2 miles tightening my ab muscles as much as I could to suppress the pain.
My marathon time that year was my worst, over four hours. The shooting pain persisted continuously at least six months after the marathon and intermittently when I stressed something for longer.
Was I being macho? Not at all. Plenty of female athletes have competed through greater injuries.
On the contrary, the experience improved my life. I’ve achieved more in life since and consider myself better for it by all my relevant values.
Why did I do it? Because I’d been injured worse many times before—blood, pulls, tears, fractures, scars, etc—and learned my limits from those experiences. My injuries taught me physically what my failures taught me mentally.
Could I have hurt myself more and regretted it? Possibly, but that’s the value of experience. Experience from before would tell me when to stop. The experience it gave me tells me when to stop.
The other day I ran around 8 or 9 miles in around 90 degree heat and high humidity. I meant to run longer but a blister was forming on my foot. By mile five, I could feel that the top layer of skin was scraped off. To avoid injury, I would have stopped then. But I knew I wasn’t running for a few days more.
More importantly, I wanted to run the steep Harlem Hill at the north end of the park.
So I tied my shoes tighter to decrease the rubbing and kept running to reach the hill. I could have stopped there, but at the top of the hill is a downhill, which I indulged in running down.
This little running vignette is not a big deal. I just ran with a blister for a few miles. Pick any professional athlete and they’ve competed through more. That’s why they’re professional and I wasn’t.
Allow me to blow your mind.
Speaking of mind—has everybody here learned not to separate the mind from the body? They aren’t that independent and thinking they are will lead you to miss connections of, say, how to make yourself happy, confident, calm, self-aware, and all sorts of other ways your body influences your mind, not just the other way.
Well, all those examples of failure that everyone lauds and recommends are all mental—that is, the pain they’re talking about is emotional or intellectual pain. People who laud it who know the pain from experience don’t want you to feel bad. They want you to learn from feeling bad to strengthen you.
The mind blowing part is to combine the last two paragraphs.
Not separating the mind and body and valuing learning through failure means you shouldn’t only value emotional and intellectual failure. Physical failure is valuable.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but obviously anyone who promotes failure doesn’t mean failure that leads to giving up on life, debt you can’t recover from, and so on. They mean within limits and you know it. Obviously, I don’t mean injuries within limits. Obviously, I’m not implying you should try to get injured. If you can’t figure out what limits mean when people promote failure, this post isn’t for you and I recommend you stop reading it. If you know what limits mean regarding failure in the articles I listed above, the same sense applies here.
Still, I’m not talking about just soreness or a blister here and there. Consider any winning athlete. He or she got injured. If you dismiss what I’m saying as some macho rant, then 1) you probably have preconceived stereotypes and put me into one before understanding and 2) you don’t know what I’m talking about.
I could tell you the value of accepting and even celebrating injury on the scale of the failure in the articles above, but I don’t have to. It’s the same as the value of failure. Read those articles and substitute injury for failure. It just affects your body more than just your mind, which we already know we shouldn’t separate too much.
I could pick any top athlete as an example. I’ll pick one of the top football players. Quarterback Brett Favre holds the NFL record for the most consecutive starts at 321. Amazing! That’s over 8 years without missing a start.
He must have never been injured, right?
Not a chance. When he has the ball, 11 men are trying to tackle him. Here is a partial list of some of his bigger injuries
- First-degree left-shoulder separation, 1991
- Deep-thigh bruise, 1993
- Severely bruised left hip, 1994
- Severely sprained left ankle, 1995
- Wind knocked out, twice, and coughed up blood, 1995
- Sprained right thumb, 1999
- Right-elbow tendinitis, 2000, 2010
- Left mid-foot sprain, 2000
- Sprained lateral collateral ligament, left knee, 2002
- Broken right thumb, 2003
- Softball-sized bruise, left hamstring, 2004
- Concussion (described as “mild”), 2004
- Sprained right hand, 2004
- Injured ulnar nerve, right elbow, 2006
- Bone spurs, left ankle, 2006
- Torn right biceps, 2008
- Pulled groin, 2009
- Stress fracture, left ankle and avulsion fracture of calcaneus (heel area), 2010
- Sprained sternoclavicular (SC) joint, right shoulder, 2010
Do I want you concussed, coughing blood, and tearing your biceps?
No, bviously not.
Do I want you to succeed in your life at the level he did in his?
Yes! . . . which all those posts on failure above agree means you have to fail and learn from it.
I want you to succeed
If you want to achieve physically, you’re going to get injured. Injuries don’t mean stop forever. Respect them. Learn from them—about yourself, about your sport, about life, about your mind, about your body, about what it means to be human, about what it means to be alive, about what giving up means, about your potential, and more.
Every person I’ve met who is unhappy and unsatisfied with their physical self tells me about some injury that prevents them from their potential. None was injured on the scale of winning athletes.
It seems as if every time I talk about marathons, people tell me about their knees and how they just can’t run.
People finish marathons in wheelchairs!
There are a million other sports, for that matter, but somehow their knees keep them from all of them.
Injuries breed success—with the obvious caveats. If the caveats aren’t obvious, develop your sense with experience.
I found countless posts promoting failure. I only found one on injury, Stop Sugarcoating Fitness: It’s SUPPOSED To Hurt A Bit, but I liked reading it and recommend it.
Here’s a final word from Chris Rock to stay humble and not to be proud for what we’re supposed to do (not safe for work, lots of cursing):
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