Overcoming Failure – Making it Personal

Posted by on August 31, 2012

By: Craig Wilson

My last post described how Winston Churchill and the British came back from the overwhelming defeat at Dunkirk and against formidable odds, held off the Nazis in the Battle of Britain. While an inspiring story, hopefully it’s not a reality that most of us will have to face. I’d like to make it personal.

Personal failure often occurs in one of three ways. First, circumstances beyond our control come into the situation to make it impossible for us to succeed in reaching our goal. Think about the astronauts on Apollo 13. They were just doing routine maintenance when an electrical short blew off a whole panel of their spacecraft making their goal of making it to the moon impossible.

The second type of failure is much more commonplace. This occurs when decisions we make lead to our inability to achieve our goal. I remember when Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox put Charlie Liebrandt in to face Kirby Puckett in the 11th inning of game six of the 1991 World Series. I shouted to my dear wife, Long-suffering Holly, “I can’t believe it! This is soooo good! Kirby killed this guy when he was with the Royals.” The next thing you know the immortal Jack Buck is saying, “And will see you tomorrow night!” as Kirby hit his legendary homerun.

Re-live the moment, or see it for the first time, with the link below:


Failure can also be caused when we don’t have the tools for the task. I once was part of a team that built a milk carton boat for the Aquatennial Milk Carton boat race. The boat was 24 feet long and 3 feet wide, with the floatation of the milk cartons underneath the frame. Our maiden voyage lasted about ten seconds as the boat flipped and we were sent scrambling to retrieve the cartons and repair both the boat and our egos. We realized it needed a stabilizer like an outrigger to keep us upright. Here’s a picture of us getting ready to launch, clueless to the disaster about to unfold!

How do we overcome these different types of personal failure? As I wrote in my last blog, always begin by honestly assessing what went wrong. That way we’ll know whether we need to change our behavior, get new tools, or just get back up and back at it.

Getting back up and back at it is the best way to respond when circumstances knock us off course. The concern with this type of failure is that too often we blame ourselves and that
leads us to give up on our goals. Let me relate a very personal example.

Back when the Earth was new and I was a junior in high school I made it to the state track meet in the 2 mile. I had a really good season. It started with me winning my first two
indoor meets, setting meet records in both. I completed the indoor season taking third in the state indoor meet. I finished 2nd in the Carleton Invite, the Bloomington Track-o-rama (that was the meet’s real name), and the conference meet, always to the same runner. I entered the state meet with 5th fastest time of the 16 qualifiers, and had good week of
workouts leading up to the meet.

The race was held on a Friday evening after a day that reached the high 90’s. The pace started off slow and at the half mile mark I was in the lead pack. As I heard the time at
the half mile I said to myself, “Man the pace is so slow, be ready, they’re going to take off – BE READY!” Sure enough on the 3rd lap the lead pack took off. I told myself to get going – go with them. But my body wouldn’t respond. I kept trying to kick into gear over the next lap and a half, but I just had nothing. By then I was distraught – how could this be happening. The last three laps were sheer misery. I finished last. These were the same runners I had been competing against all year so it wasn’t that I was thrown into a
higher level of competition. I just didn’t have an answer.

I spent that night going over and over the race trying to figure it out, or sometimes just reliving the pain and the shame I felt. The next day I started to see more clearly what
happened. I couldn’t get anything to drink from Noon until dinner at 6:00 PM. Dinner was ham, au gratin potatoes, and green beans. Not the best pre-race meal. I put things into context.

The next Monday I started my summer training regime with a new attitude. I researched foods for distance runners and began making my own power bars (powdered skim milk, honey, nuts, condensed skim milk, coconut, and some other stuff I can’t remember) from a recipe the Iowa State coach had in an article and I ate more fruit, instead of refined sugars. I was ready to compete again.

The state AAU race was at the end of June. I won the 2 mile setting a new record by nine seconds.

Once again, the most important factor in overcoming this type of failure is to put into the proper perspective, learn what to change for the future, and to not let it destroy your confidence. Then get back into the race with a new resolve to show the world what you can do!

I’ll be covering the other two types of failure in upcoming posts.

Do you have an example how you came back from a failure where
circumstances didn’t work out for you?

How did you feel at first?

How did you overcome the experience?

Carry On!


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