To fall short, to be unsuccessful, to disappoint the expectations or trust of, to be deficient in – these are phrases Merriam-Webster uses to define the word “fail.” Lack of success, a falling short, one that has failed – this is what the dictionary says it means to be a failure. No offense to Merriam-Webster, who has been around since 1828 and is probably technically more qualified to define words than me, but I disagree with these definitions and want to reframe what it means to fail. In my hypothetical world where failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing, to fail simply means that a person’s plans did not go 100% as that person desired. However, rather than the failure being the end result, I want to propose that to fail is actually the beginning of an opportunity to be better – whether that’s a better athlete, writer, mother, teacher, wife, artist, human being, or any other descriptor used to categorize people – and that failure is actually the thing that opens the door to improvement.
I recently listened to a Run This World podcast interview of Janelle Smiley, who is an adventurer, life coach, and all around badass. Janelle has accomplished some amazing athletic feats, and one of the pieces of advice she offered was to fail fast. What I gathered from this part of her interview was that the reason she is able to accomplish the level of badassery she has achieved is because she can take on an extremely scary goal, fail, process that failure quickly, and use it to her advantage. (Click HERE to listen to the full podcast.) This really resonated with me because I have recognized an ability to fail fast in myself, though I haven’t always viewed it as a positive.
When you fail fast and that failure was the end of something, that does nothing to help you make progress. If, however, you fail fast and recognize the failure as the opportunity to dig deeper and find something more within yourself, that is when failing, and failing fast, can become something beautiful.
Today, I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, the very race I ran two years ago and missed my goal-time by 34 seconds. When I ran this race in 2015, I was purely racing for time, and I so desperately wanted to break a 2:30 1/2 marathon. Missing that by less than a minute was crushing, and I was upset that my watch told me I had run 13.4 miles rather than 13.1 – I immediately blamed my missed goal on the length of the course. But, I quickly reflected and regrouped and promised myself I would hit the 2:30 time another day, which I finally did earlier this year, by over 5 minutes, at the Colfax Marathon. Now, two years later, my goal for today’s race was to experiment with nutrition in preparation for my first full Ironman next summer and to try to keep my pace in the 11’s. When I realized early on that the course was going to be longer than 13.1 miles and thus my official pace would not reflect 11’s even if I technically held that pace, I was briefly upset, but quickly reframed my perspective and the possibility of failure. Rather than allowing myself to walk when I wanted, I only allowed myself to walk when I felt like that’s what my body needed because including my warm-up run and the longer course, I would get in a good, solid 14.5 miles of running today, which is more than I’ve ever done in one day before. Although I knew I would “fail” at keeping the pace I wanted, I would gain confidence in my ability to run longer distances, and today, that was a win when it could have just as easily been a failure – same experience, different perspective.
Next time you feel like you are failing, take a step back and see if you can find the door that is opening to allow you to grow through that experience and see if you can fail fast, process, and reframe it as a win.