Saturday, I attempted to run 100 miles as part of the Aravaipa Strong Virtual Race. My friend and I planned to run around a 1.4 mile loop as many times as it would take. This might sound awful, but the loop allowed us to use our cars as aid stations and stop whenever we needed. There was a park on the loop with a public bathroom, and the company of a good friend made the prospect less daunting.
Just over 50K in, I made the difficult decision to stop. My right knee was really bothering me, blisters lined my feet, and the temperatures were rising above 90 degrees. I didn't want to stop, because stopping felt like failure. But after I got home and took inventory of my wounds, I realized my knee was in worse shape than I thought. I was massively dehydrated and continuing the run would have inevitably led to more protracted pain. But failure still stings, so I jotted down some semi-insightful thoughts. Enjoy ❤️
1. Failure is subjective.
As I mentally worked around what I would learn from falling short of my goal, I realized that the biggest failure would have been to not start in the first place. Perhaps this sounds obvious, but if we never try, we never fail. There is a strange social stigma to falling short of our stated goals, but audacious goals should not be easily reached. Audacious goals also do not come to fruition quickly. It took Thomas Edison years of research, study, trial-and-error to create the light bulb, and people probably thought he was insane. If he had quit after one small setback, we may still be living in darkness. Each time he failed though, he came closer to reaching his goal. Failure teaches us eons more than success, but it's sure as hell not as cozy.
2. Failure is wildly motivating.
Failure lets us know that the task we set out to achieve is challenging, or it tells us we were not prepared. Either way, it's a good sign. Too much success breeds complacency and discontent. Humans need challenges to thrive, and failure teaches us that a challenge is worthy; that achieving it will bring far deeper joy than achieving an easily obtainable goal.
3. Failure is a feeling.
The fact is that I did not finish my race. The fact may be that you did not study, or prepare for the interview, or maintain your relationship, or save money. But all of these facts are attached to an emotion: shame, guilt, resentment, anger, and hopefully, humility. We are only as wise as the version of ourselves we embody in the face of failure. When I was a senior in High School, I did not win a specific cross country race. I felt enormous pressure to do so, and I handled that failure poorly. I cried. I brooded. I harbored anger and shame and projected these negative emotions into the world and people around me. But now I know better. I will allow myself to feel sad, but not for too long. I will evaluate my mistakes and be kind to myself for not knowing what I didn't know. I will remain open to learning from my shortcomings so that in the future, I will not fall short. I will recognize my inability to always win and take this loss squarely and on the chin. And finally, I will impart the very important but often overlooked reality that failures are feelings and events, not definitions.