The Importance of Risk and Failure

The times when things do not go as planned; oh, they keep us up at night staring at ceilings and stars.

Over the past few weeks, well since September 22nd to be exact, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about failure. I have arrived at the point in my life both professionally and personally where I am taking stock of this life I’m living and thinking about how the next third or so will play out.

It’s too early to “coast” to the finish line (read retirement) and if I don’t mix things up considerably and shake the veritable snow globe I risk burnout. A big challenge as I get older is that my body won’t always just do what I ask just because of sheer will and suffering. It used to be that way, but not so much any more. A lot more planning is necessary now when I vision out goals, plans and my future.

But with that comes considerable risk of failure. And as I think about that it can be a little scary. Recently a client shared with me about an event that didn’t go as he had hoped and planned. It was going great for the first half, but then he made a mistake and it all came crashing down. What would have been perhaps a personal best turned into a dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish). That leaves a terrible pit in the stomach when one puts months of preparation into an event.

As well for me, I had been working on a personal goal for two years. Two years of planning, many miles and nights spent in the backcountry in preparation. Sleepless nights waking up mentally checking off every last detail so that I would be prepared for any scenario. Over the course of a month I experienced an array of emotions only to experience sad disappointment in the end.

So as I mulled over the email from my client I responded with the following words which I felt likely summed up how he felt and also summed up many of my life’s goals in which I had fallen short of my desired outcome.

   I know that when you put that much time into the preparation, the hours spent on the roads, early mornings, challenging intervals, knocking out a prescribed workout when fatigue is setting in, that this kind of thing can just derail one’s morale. 
I often think that in failure we learn so much more about ourselves than when we have the successes. It’s interesting that when goals are met, we check them off and look forward on the horizon to what mountain can next be climbed.

   But the times when things do not go as planned; oh, they keep us up at night staring at ceilings and stars re-playing events down to a second and have us thinking “what if?” But while the “what if’s” can be so tough to swallow, and they kick our pride in the gut, I think over time they mold us as people and provide motivation to learn from mistakes and overcome hurdles. 

So as I look at the prospects for my life personally and professionally over the next year and years I think I’ll keep taking those risks. Yes, when failure happens it can be a setback, but it also can provide sharper focus, better evaluation of situations and in turn become fuel to make it happen later on. Take a risk! It’s better than always playing it safe for the “sure bet”.

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