Learning How to Fail is an Art

A few months ago, I wrote about a challenge that I issued to myself: run a series of 5k races, each about a month apart, and try to get faster. At the time I wrote the post, it was a goal I set.

Meditations in Motion

I ran the first race in the series on St. Patrick’s Day and noted my time, then I recently ran the second race. And got slower! OK, only four seconds slower on a tougher course, but still. I am going in the opposite direction of where I want to go.

Meditations in Motion

I had to look at what went wrong. I know that to get faster race times, I have to practice running fast. I started out this winter going to the track each week. Even when there was a coating of slush and ice on the track, I did speed work. My breath came in foggy puffs as I labored around the track, but I pushed myself each week.

 

 

The first 5k was the beginning of my spring racing schedule. It was followed, in rapid succession, by a 10k, a trail half marathon, another 10k, a monster trail 25k…. You get the idea.  Each week, I would think “I should go to the track.” Each week, I would not go. I do not recover as quickly as I once did, and I reasoned that I did not want “dead” legs for the upcoming race; I always had an upcoming race. Poor planning on my part.

Meditations in Motion

The goal that I had set for myself was not a goal at all; it was more of a wish. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said  “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” I wished I was faster, but I never really did much to make myself be faster. Ugh! Failure!

So, now what? Abandon the project? Set more realistic goals? My friends and family know that I am just a teensy bit stubborn (my husband is rolling on the floor laughing as he reads this). I am reluctant to change my goal. I think it is attainable if I am willing to put in the work.

Meditations in Motion

I have failed more times than I can count at things big and important and at those small and inconsequential. My first year of teaching was a huge failure. I had a terrible, combative attitude towards my students; I was teaching a confusing curriculum in an inept way. My goal was to eke my way through each miserable day. At the end of the year, I found a new job, and the profession I spent four years working toward seemed like an unrealistic goal.

Seven years (and two more babies) later, I had the opportunity to substitute teach. I loved it! My attitude towards students had changed; I let them know that I was on their side, and that we were going to get through the lesson together. I loved the subject matter and the curriculum; the administration was supportive. When the principal offered me a full time job for the next year, I jumped at the opportunity and spent the next 30+ years teaching at the same school. I was a good teacher. I loved the profession and my students.

Meditations in Motion

When I began running marathons, my goal was to qualify for Boston. I tried to do everything right – I trained hard, ran lots of long runs, did hill workouts and tempo runs, rested in the days leading up to the race, but I failed six (or was it seven?) times before I  finally qualified in Eugene, OR, after a late night of music, fun and even a beer (maybe two) with my husband and son. The distraction from my pre-race jitters was exactly what I needed.

Meditations in Motion

I did not look anything like the women in this picture.

I have failed at knitting (the sweater I was trying for ended up as a tangled up half-finished mess), at running hurdles in high school (two words – bruised shins), and I fail miserably every single time at seeing those 3-dimensional hidden pictures.

The point isn’t that I have failed many, many times; it is that I have succeeded at all. True, I will never knit a sweater for a new grandchild, but I learned that knitting is not for me (my attention wanders, and I lose track of stitches). If I wouldn’t have kept trying to qualify for Boston, I would never have had one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. At Boston every runner is a rock star for the entire 26.2 miles. Even when I failed at my first year of teaching, I learned (after subsequent reflection) that students are not the enemy, and the first order of the day is to make sure we are all on the same side.

Meditations in Motion

The tricky part is to know when to move on and when to keep trying. I could have attempted to knit another sweater or scarf, but I really didn’t enjoy it, and I didn’t have to do it, so I put it aside. I learned something about myself in the process. To immediately give up on Boston or teaching, however, would have robbed me of two big accomplishments, both of which increased my self-confidence. In each case, I found changes I was capable of making which vastly improved my ability to be successful.

In order to determine whether to give something up as a lost cause, you first must ask yourself “Is my goal realistic?” If I needed to shave, say, two hours off my marathon time to qualify for Boston, I probably would have had to come up with a new goal. I only needed to get faster by 25 minutes, which seemed realistic.

The next question is “Am I willing to do what is necessary to achieve my goal?” In the case of my sweater, the answer was “No.” I was not willing to pay attention to counting stitches and endure the painfully slow process of producing a sweater. My sister is a talented knitter, and has made beautiful sweaters, baby blankets, etc. Sadly, I do not have the same patience and talent.

The final question to ask yourself is “What is the plan?” De Saint-Exupery is right. You need a map (or at least a pretty good idea) of how to get from here to there. If you don’t have a plan, you don’t have a goal; you have a wish. I had a training plan for each marathon I ran, but as it turned out, I not only needed the plan, I needed to relax (and a little serendipity).

Meditations in Motion

So. My 5k goal. Is it realistic? Yes. I think it is. I am not trying to run races as fast as I did when I was in my prime. I just want to get a little faster than I am now. Am I willing to do what is necessary? Yes. I went back to the track this week. I ran 1200 meter and 800 meter intervals. Do I have a plan? Yes. My plan is to do at least one speed workout a week. Usually intervals at the track. If I don’t have a race, I may also do a tempo run. Am I holding on to my goal? Pfffttt! Of course! Will I be able to accomplish it?

Here is another quote by de Saint-Exupery “Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it.” I must plan in order to enable the future I want.

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I am linking up with Jamie Sumner for Sunday Thoughts and with Debbie at Dare 2 Hear. Check out the inspirational posts on her Tune in Thursdays.Also linking with Amanda at Running With Spoons for her Thinking Out Loud Thursdays. and Jessica and Amy at Live Life Well. If you like this post, you may want to visit to read what other bloggers have to say!

Sunday thoughtsThinking Out Loud  Tune in Thursdaylive life well

I am linking up with Holley Gerth for Coffee for Your Heart and with Eclectic Evelyn for her Words on Wednesday link up. I am also linking up with Shank You Very Much for her Dream Team link up and her Global Blogging link up.

Holley Gerth  Words on WednesdayGlobal blogging

I am linking up with Char at Trekking Thru. Check out some moving inspirational blogs here. I am also linking up with Patty, Erika and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run. Love these running-related blogs! I am linking up with Teaching What Is Good for their Tuesday Link-up. Visit here for inspirational posts from many other bloggers. I am linking up with Clean East Fast Feets for her Week in Review. Check it out for some more great reads (including some very yummy recipes!)

tuesdays on the run  Trekkingweek in review

 

 

 

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57 comments

  1. So I love this post because you mentioned you were acting as though your students were your enemy. I think I can apply that to a group of people I am overseeing at work. I think I need to do a mind shift! Perhaps it will be more enjoyable going forward!! Thank u! And congrats on running Boston!! Dunn

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an awesome post, Laurie! Yes, I tend to be a wee bit stubborn too. It’s in my genes — what can I say?

    5ks are so hard. Especially when training for longer distances. Isn’t it funny how some people just love to do speed work and others just live for the long run? And then, sometimes, as you learned when you tried to BQ, sometimes it’s just about letting go and enjoying.

    Although I’m laughing about a 25 minute marathon PR seeming doable . . . while I don’t even think marathons are doable!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey that year was my first Boston! You make so many great points, not the least of which is you need to do the work. Amazing things happen when we want something bad enough that we are willing to work hard for it. Many, many wishers out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Every spring I seem to have to start all over with working on my speed. The older we get, the quicker we lose it if we don’t continue to train for speed, or at least that’s what happens to me. And failing? I’ve perfected that to an art form. It’s just accepting the failure that’s hard…

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true. I used to be able to run a fast race without really training specifically for speed. However, I still think that I can get faster, even at my age!

      Like

  5. This is a lost skill. Expand that out and you have kids who get a trophy just for showing up. We are raising a generation where they are not allowed to fail. Failing is a skill just like anything else. Thank you for writing this. Set a goal. Work towards it. Keep trying. #dreamteam

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is so true! I used to teach high school and had mostly honors classes. The kids were sometimes afraid to raise their hands because if they were not 100% sure of the answer. They were afraid of even a little failure. Failure is a skill that should be taught and learned.

      Like

  6. Hey, when I first glanced at your title, I thought it said “Learning How to FALL,” and so I imagined that you would be telling runners to tuck and roll, not to be breaking limbs by trying to catch themselves, etc.
    And, in a way, I guess you were doing that in a way. Sometimes, for me, a gracious fail has been more instructive and even more helpful to others than a success would have been.
    So crucial that we learn to fold those failures into our story and then move on.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, I am a knitter LOL I’m also an avid art geek, and my brain seems to embrace that kind of stuff…envisioning the final piece before it’s even started, and tweaking the pattern along the way to make it “all mine.” I’m also a runner, too, who’d like to get a bit faster, but I have a really tough time committing to the necessary work to make that happen. Ahhh, the struggle is real!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a great perspective! I especially love the questions you asked yourself. I find this ringing true for a few things in my life now. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I crochet and I fail a lot, but every failure is once step closer to success. I learn from every single one and get better at my craft. I tried knitting once, determined to learn it. I had visions of all the wonderful things I was going to make. I bought all kinds of knitting needles. Then I tried it and kept failing at it. I was so good at crochet, why couldn’t I pick up knitting? I tried for two weeks or so and realized, as you said, it wasn’t for me. I didn’t care enough about it to keep trying. Instead, it galvanized me to really explore crochet in depth. After failing at knitting, I enjoyed crochet even more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like you have found your niche! I like crochet much better than knitting too. A new yarn shop just opened in our town, so if I run into problems with my crochet project, I can get some help there.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love how you can sit down and really think through the different goals, like knitting and running, and be able to tell that one is not for you and one it. To learn something from it, and follow the goal that you want. I love the quote!!!

    Blessings,

    Amy

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love your advice to examine how realistic a goal is. Not many people think that because they repeat the “anything is possible” mantra. They end up missing out on an activity they love because they feel like quitting isn’t an option. #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

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