Failure is defined as the lack of success, or not accomplishing an aim or purpose. When we fear failure, we are tempted to avoid the pain or grief of not reaching our goals by not trying at all. Avoiding failure is a maladaptive strategy of staying safe by avoiding reaching outside your sure wins. Tempt yourself to be courageous and go after the outrageous or impossible. James Cameron says that “If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”*
“One of the most important interview questions you can ask someone is: how have you failed?” says NFL quarterback and entrepreneur Drew Bledsoe on Finding Mastery podcast with sports psychologist, Michael Gervais. He explains his rationale: “If the answer is followed up with what you learned from that, then you may get the job. If you didn’t learn anything then you’re unlikely to get the job. And if you say you’ve never failed then you’re either lying or the luckiest person in the world. And you’re definitely not going to get the job because I don’t want you to fail for the first time on my clock.”
I’ve failed. A lot. I’ve failed physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, relationally, and I’ve failed in terms of faith. Some of my more catastrophic failures have come from a combination of several different types of failure all at once.
When I was 27 I attempted to rookie for the Missoula smokejumpers. Day one I came down with pneumonia while out working and sweating in the freezing cold all night. I was taken to the doctor the next day, but nothing could be done. I survived three more days of physical testing and skills training. But by Friday I was barely functioning for the final test: a timed, three mile, 110-pound pack carriage test. At that time I weighed just over 110 pounds and the weight was oppressive, let alone when I was burning with a fever and felt like I was choking on a plastic bag. I dropped the pack, got out of sight of everyone, went to the barracks, and slept for over 13 hours in the wet clothes I’d worn for the past 4 days.
I was sent to a hotshot crew that treated me like a stray dog, but that winter I trained my ass off. Until I cried, or got sick, or my body hurt so bad I could barely stand up or sit on a toilet. I punished my body over and over desperate for that second chance. And I didn’t train to meet expectations. I trained to obliterate them. Some people thought I was overdoing it when I would go pull dirt around with my Pulaski for four or five hours with a 45# pack on. Or when I would beg people for the opportunity to buck up their firewood for more winter chainsaw time. I went to the cheapest gym I could find and scoured the internet to find Olympic lifting tutorials and workout ideas. I would carry 85-90# packs up steep hills weekly. I trained until I could triple the minimum calisthenics requirements.
When I returned the next year, the base manager told me he gave me a second chance because I had heart. He watched me carry an 85-pound pack over rough terrain for three hours with pneumonia. And he knew then that I had what it takes to be a smokejumper. But he didn’t tell me that until I knew it myself.
I had to earn what I was capable of by exceeding my own expectations every day for months. My failure gave me an opportunity to push myself far beyond what I ever thought I could achieve. By failing that once I learned to stand back up a hundred and ten more times.
Take a chance, be willing to fail, fall down, get up, fight, be yourself, be strong, get’er done.
* From Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferriss.