Yesterday I failed.
Not in sports. In work. No one ever said “Hey Laurel you really failed” but when I look at the facts of the situation I essentially did. I worked really hard, day in and day out for a good chunk of time. I lost sleep over it. I was short and irritable about it. I tried new and different ways of doing things and after all that the results aren’t there to show for it in a way that was wanted. There is a lot of work to show, there's a foundation to build on, but there isn’t a product to ship. Ideas and effort without going to market are just ideas and effort.
I wasn’t the only one who failed but somehow I feel like I failed the most – which may or may not be true – I can only speak for myself. A lot contributed to us failing and some was above and beyond what we could do anything about and even still we came to work every day and did our best and it wasn’t enough and that's new for me. I’m used to trying and succeeding. I’m used to being met with smiles of encouragement and glimmers of delight when I exceed expectations but not this time. Not even close, and it’s surprising.
Fail is a harsh word. If I used it out loud at my office, I’d probably be encouraged to reframe the situation. But I think Fail is great word. Failing creates an internal disconnect of what we believe we can do and who we believe we can be with what actually happened. I learn from failing. WE learn from failing.
And failing hurts. It cuts deep because it feels personal and sometimes it is personal. If it didn't feel that way, then we're all emotionless monsters who want nothing more or better from ourselves.
Sports have taught me to fail my whole life. Publicly. Frequently. And in Spandex. And as I do more sports and toe more start lines, I fail more and I fail better.
My dad recently reminded me of a time during high school cross-country championships when I came second to my arch frenemy. As soon as I crossed the finish line, he hurried toward me to give me a hug and I pushed him! I shoved my Dad because I came second. I was angry, I wanted to win, I trained to win and I didn't win.
Then, there was that time I was doing a triathlon in my late teens and it wasn’t going how I wanted it to. I was a sore loser. A sore loser to myself and publicly upset because what I wanted didn't happen. I had expectation of myself and when I didn't reach them, it got deep, dark and ugly, I wanted a do over. "Let me be back in the pool - I want to start again!", but that's not how it works.
I think of recent times when a race didn’t go the way I wanted and how I am able to handle them now – especially in Ironman. The effort, scheduling, sacrifices, money, time and grit that go in to an Ironman are huge. When those races go poorly, I go through these motions:
Internal stages of sports failure
I absorb it – Ok, that didn’t go my way. Shit.
I spiral internally and blame myself – I suck. I’ll never get better. I don’t have what it takes. I should quit. Maybe I should find a new sport? Maybe no sports at all? I'll eat donuts. A LOT of donuts. I could probably be good at that.
I blame someone else – It’s my coaches fault. I don’t know why. It. Just. Is.
I stop blaming anyone – Why does fault even matter? It doesn’t get me anywhere. Blaming myself or a bike mechanic or whoever doesn’t make me faster, better, stronger, or smarter. Blaming does help me stay in the past. If you like being stuck in the past, blame is a great way to do it.
I own it.
I start learning - I review the race, I review the prep, I think about my goals and how far off my race was.
I ask what - “Why did it happen that way?” is not a helpful question. “What can I do to get closer to my goal?” and “What would make a difference?” are helpful.
I find something I can actually DO. I can do something about it and that is the biggest difference between being bad at failing and failing better.
I get present - Once I get to the present without dwelling in the past, and with a potential plan for the future, I can be present. I can congratulate myself and other competitors and actually mean it.
Failing still blows. It blows hard and it still hurts. I just also know there are better ways to do it and there are even ways to make it beneficial AND when you do that you can even be classy about it. aka not making a scene, kicking a chair, yelling at your parents, becoming a dick in a meeting, or simply giving up....to name a few.
What I know I need to do now is to take all those lessons and my internal stages of sports failure and turn them in to internal stages of general failure which can be done in sweat-crusted spandex AND anywhere else.