I’ve failed a lot in my life.
And as much as I tell you guys to never give up, I’ve given up—a lot.
I’ve tried things that I was so bad at I never gave them another chance. And I used to be so afraid of failing that I wouldn’t even try new things (not something I’m especially proud to admit).
Here’s a short list of things I’ve failed at:
- Fencing: I was semi-obsessed with the movie The Princess Bride in high school and romanticized the idea of being a master fencer. My parents agreed to sign me up for a four class intro, but I sucked so bad the first class I walked out in total shame and never went back.
- Learning to play the guitar: Starting in third grade, I tried to learn to play the guitar with zero success. I took lessons at different times in my life for months at a time, but just couldn’t ever convince myself that I actually enjoyed it. I couldn’t even play you Happy Birthday (my third grade specialty) today if I tried my best.
- An endless list of careers: I’ve failed at and given up on countless careers since high school, ranging from a photographer to a radio journalist to working in politics.
- Gymnastics: I’ve failed over and over in my recent pursuit of adult gymnastics, and have been working on back handsprings for so long now that any person in their right mind would have given up and moved on by now.
- Handstands: I’ve fallen thousands of times trying to do handstands, and failed pretty much constantly for the first year attempting to be upside down (Read more about my handstand journey here).
- Speaking a second (or third, or fourth) language: Ever since I discovered my love of traveling as a kid I’ve dreamed of speaking multiple languages. Living in Europe only furthered this desire. Yet although I’ve taken lessons in both Spanish and Dutch, I’m a long way from being able to speak either.
- Muscle ups: Despite kind of working on them for maybe two years now, I’ve failed at these again and again.
- An unending list of fitness skills: Despite trying, I still can’t do a muscle up without a band or assistance. I’ve yet to successfully do a full range of motion freestanding handstand push up, can’t do a handstand press for the life of me, and topple over every time I attempt a shrimp squat.
And although I definitely get discouraged at times, I know deep down that these failures (and my many others) have helped me grow and become the person and athlete I am today.
Here are three important lessons I’ve learned from failing a lot in life:
Failing Initially Doesn’t Mean You’ll Fail Forever
This is a lesson that took me a really long time to learn: just because you fail the first, second, or twentieth time at something doesn’t mean you’ll fail at it forever.
When I first started trying to do double unders, I absolutely sucked at them. I had terrible form and couldn’t manage to link more than one or two together for weeks. Then, for what seemed like forever, I couldn’t link more than five in a row. Yet now, after tons of practice over the past couple of years, I can finally do 50 in a row pretty effortlessly.
It’s important to remember that for any new skill you try, there is inevitably going to be a learning period where you may not be very good and end up failing—a lot.
But just because you’re not good at something at the beginning doesn’t mean you can’t become great at it with time and practice.
Failing once doesn’t mean failing for life. (Tweet this!)
Failing Doesn’t Mean You’re a Failure.
Growing up, this is something I struggled with a lot—every time I failed at something, whether it was a test I didn’t do very well on, a team I didn’t make (thinking of you, volleyball!), or a shot I missed during an important game, I would internalize that failure and in turn wrongly believe that I was a failure.
But you have to remember that just because you fail at something doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
Whatever you failed at—whether it’s not beating your 100 Burpee Challenge PR, not getting the job you wanted, forgetting your Mom’s birthday, or something else entirely—that doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a person.
Even if you decide to give up on your failed venture entirely instead of trying again, pick yourself back up and keep giving life your all. You are not a failure, no matter what you failed at.
Failing May Lead to New, Better Opportunities
I used to let myself get hurt by every single failure, whether or not it was actually important to me. I wanted to be perfect at everything, to be able to play every sport with grace and athleticism, to be able to kick ass at any career, and to be able to pick up any new skill or hobby with minimal effort.
But nobody is perfect. Nobody is good at every single thing. And failing and then letting go of one thing will most likely help you find something else that ends up being a better fit in the long run.
I was terrible at running (and hated it as well)—so I gave it up and found HIIT training, which I love, as a result.
I didn’t get the radio job or newspaper job I thought I wanted after graduating college—now I know that if I had gotten either, I’d most likely be miserable, working at a job I wasn’t interested, in while living in a city I didn’t like. Had I gotten those jobs or any of the other dozens I applied for and didn’t get, it’s very unlikely I would have ever started my own business.
Sometimes, one failure (or a string of failures) is life just trying to lead you in a better direction.
The Power of Positive Thinking
It may seem crazy, but the more you believe something, the more likely it is to actually become true.
This is true both for negative and positive outcomes. So the more you tell yourself that you’re failure, the more you’re likely to actually fail. But the more you believe positive things about yourself and tell yourself things like I can do this, the more likely you’ll end up succeeding in the end.
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan
Don’t Give Up on Your Dreams
If you fail at something and decide not to try again, don’t beat yourself up over it. Sometimes, you just realize that after giving something a try, it’s just not worth the effort it would take not to fail—and ultimately you’d rather put our energy into something that matters more. That’s perfectly fine.
But whatever you do, don’t give up on the things that are really important to you.
Trying to fulfill other people’s dreams or doing something that someone else would like you to do will sooner or later lead to failure, because these are not goals that you truly want. Do what’s important to you.
Whether you’ve always wanted to be able to do a handstand, run a marathon, go to Grad school, or travel the world, don’t let setbacks or failures discourage you to the point that you give up on your dreams entirely.
Because if you want something bad enough—no matter how much work it takes—you can do anything you put your mind to. I believe in you.