“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
– Henry Ford
It’s such a nasty word. When I read it, I can actually feel my stomach drop. However, I think it’s also one of the most important words in the English language. I recently had a rough encounter with failure. I’m trying my best to come out on the other side a better man. While I can’t say that I’ve made that transition just yet, I’m keeping my eye on the prize. Here are some lessons I learned when something I love turned into something I strongly disliked.
It’s important to be passionate about the things you do. This is true professionally, personally, spiritually, etc. One of the reasons I launched Utah Lean Six Sigma Training Center is because professionally I am passionate about two things: teaching and improving. They go hand-in-hand.
One of the things about which I’m passionate in my personal life is obstacle racing. While this mainly consists of participating in Spartan Races in and around Utah, I’ve done many others. I’m passionate about obstacle racing because my body is very well suited to the obstacles. Simply put, the obstacles are fun for me. I get to swing on monkey bars, climb ropes, throw spears, and generally have a wonderful time acting like a 44-year-old kid. I always enjoy my races.
That is, until last Saturday.
I most certainly did not enjoy my attempt at the Spartan Ultra.
Notice how I wrote “attempt” there? I made it through 18 miles and 39 obstacles of the 31 mile, 74 obstacle race before I missed a time deadline and was cut from the course.
Let me make one thing clear: while there’s always some aspects of each race that I would like to see done differently, my failure is not the fault of Spartan Race. That failure falls squarely on my shoulders. In very general terms, I wasn’t prepared for the aggressive climbs I encountered. 5500’ of elevation gain in those 18 miles wiped me out.
Lesson Learned: “Surround yourself with good people who encourage and love you. There are always ups and downs, no matter how successful you are.” – Liana Liberato
My training for the Spartan Ultra started about 6 months prior to the event. This race, as all of them are, was dedicated to my wife and children. Because I felt as though I had let them down I had to choke back tears as I called my wife to inform her of my failure. I was heartbroken. But even though I was hurting inside, I laughed and laughed all weekend long because of the wonderful friends and family that shared this experience with me. They didn’t let me dwell on my failure. They were exactly what I needed in the immediate aftermath.
Lesson Learned: “When you’re going through hell, keep going!” – Winston Churchill
During the race I was experiencing nasty cramps in my calves. I knew from experience that I would eventually get calf cramps. For me, they typically start around mile six or seven of a race and quickly subside, but these started early around mile five. I tried everything to get them to go away: I stretched my calves, I drank electrolyte infused water. My team mate even gave me a couple mustard packets to gag down! All of those treatments would give me temporary relief and eventually those temporary fixes gave way to more permanent solutions as my body caught up on whatever it was lacking. By mile 15 I realized that the cramps were gone and I was moving fairly comfortably again.
Lesson Learned: “Endings don’t have to be failures, especially when you choose to end a project or shut down a business… Even the best gigs don’t last forever. Nor should they. – Samin Nosrat
Right around mile 15 I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the transition area in time to continue with the race. Even if I had made the time deadline, I simply did not have another lap in my gas tank. Missing the deadline was a mercy killing. Considering my desire to actually live another day, and the realization that I wouldn’t make the cutoff, the rest of my portion of the race became much more enjoyable. The weight of futile effort had been lifted from off my shoulders.
Lesson Learned: “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” – Johnny Cash
In the days following the race I’ve had the opportunity to do some honest root cause analysis of my failure. There are a number of causes (you’ll notice I used the plural word “causes”! Read more about why that’s important here.), but chief among them is my lack of training. My good friend and gifted runner JD Bowns told me that in order to prepare, one must get used to spending a lot of time on one’s feet. I didn’t do that. I trained, but not long enough. Looking back, I should have known that my obstacle proficiency was solid, but my running was sub-par. Learning from failure and knowing what you need to do to achieve success is one of the most beautiful things in life. It allows us to turns weaknesses into strengths and emotionally this painful event is now a positive driving force, pushing me on to bigger and better things.
Lesson Learned: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
There really are so many lessons to be learned from failure. Certainly more than I’ve listed here. The last bit of knowledge I will share is something I’ve known for many years and has done more to bring me joy than almost any other: gratitude will bring you joy. I’m grateful for my failures. Almost without fail, they make me a better person.