Failure. One of the most feared words for athletes. It's also one of the most important words. But not in the way most people think. As athletes, we spend our time avoiding failure, which is the wrong approach. We need to EMBRACE failure. Don't get me wrong, failing is tough. It's messy, brings up emotions, and leads us to question ourselves. Yet, that can also be one of the best things for us. That's why it's important that we (yes, myself included) fail! (Don't worry. I wasn't always that way, but we'll get to that.) We need to develop a different relationship with failure for success.
Many athletes get frustrated and angry with themselves when they experience failure, which is understandable to some extent. It's okay to feel emotions associated with failure, but it's what you DO with those emotions that is the most important. Do you use them to beat yourself up or do you use them to inspire yourself to do better? Do you question you training methods and quit? Or do you question your training methods, find out what is working and not working, and make modifications for the better? Be open to what you can learn from your failures. If you're not sure what you can learn, take some time to figure it out. Failure, done the right way, can foster an incredible amount of growth.
Now here's the tricky part: developing this type of relationship with failure takes time. Then again, becoming a great athlete also takes time, so chances are you're not averse to being dedicated to something to help your performance! I frequently connect with individuals and organizations in the sport world to form collaborative relationships around our mutual interest of helping athletes succeed. Often these meetings go well, result in long-standing mutually beneficial relationships, and even lasting friendships. But there have also been meetings that have not gone well, or at the very least not gone according to (my) plan. At first, I questioned whether the meeting should have occurred and caught myself beating myself up for putting myself out there. (Okay, let's be completely honest: Once upon a time, I questioned my entire career and contemplated working at a flower shop because everyone's happy when they get flowers. A bit extreme? Yep, but honest.). Yet, I learned very quickly early in my career that this was not a productive approach.
So, I took my own advice and got curious about what happened rather than judge it. I've realized there were things I could have done differently to present my message better and scheduled follow up meetings so we could talk further. I've also realized some meetings weren't the right time for a partnership and had further discussions at a later time. I've also learned that not everyone is going to be the best fit for each other. Being aware of this helps me stay in line with my own mission and approach to helping athletes. The great part through all of these examples is I failed and learned from it. Through every failure I've learned more about myself that helps me define who I am and what I do.
Failure can absolutely be helpful for you, if you're open to it. One of my favorite TED talks is Reshma Saujani's talk titled "Teach girls bravery, not perfection." Although it's geared toward girls, her talk applies to any gender or any age. As athletes, we are constantly striving toward perfection. Yet, how often do we just go for it without worrying whether or not we are being perfect? One of the most powerful statements in her talk is this: "I was 33 years old and it was the first time in my entire life that I had done something that was truly brave, where I didn't worry about being perfect." It's okay to struggle. It's okay to fail. Through failure, we can be better AND braver, which makes us more equipped to go after those awesome goals!
Disclaimer: You should consult and appropriate professional for specific advice tailored to your situation. If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, you should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.