Friday, October 24, 2008

Failing at Failure

I wrote this for myself a couple years ago and now my sister insists I post it. Just a little insight into the complexities of my mind:

I spent most of my life watching from the sidelines. I wanted to be active and athletic, I have always imagined myself as intelligent, adventurous and successful but I was afraid to step out, take a risk and be any of those things. I told myself I would be good at something if I decided to put forth the effort but I just didn’t have time, money, desire, etc and that is why I wasn’t doing it. “Of course I could get straight A’s but who wants to spend that much time on homework?” “Yes I could be a cheerleader but I just don’t want to wear those cute skirts around the school.” As I got older I had a great built in excuse of husband and children which led to the very popular, “I’m too busy”. I didn’t want to admit I was afraid to take a risk and not be the best.

The turning point of my life happened in my 30’s when I decided to sign my son Jake up for snowboarding one winter. Having not done anything athletic as a child I really wanted to see him learn a sport and feel comfortable being active. I decided to sign my husband up for lessons too so that Jake wouldn’t be snowboarding alone. Then I realized that I would be sitting home alone so in a moment of ambition I signed myself up as well.

The lessons were in January on 4 extremely cold Friday nights in Minnesota. Before they even started I regretted signing up. I hate being out in the cold and had managed to spend most of my life in denial about the fact that I lived in Minnesota where it is snow covered half the year. My husband was supportive of me taking the lessons but I am sure he assumed I would cancel my lesson at the last minute. There was just no precedent in which I would do something this active. And then when you added the cold weather? Forget it.

But there I stood that first Friday in January. The sun was down eliminating any chance of a warm up and the wind was blowing. Our son was sent off with a group of other kids his age who had no idea they were supposed to be cold and worried about breaking things and my husband and I were left alone with an instructor and one other parent crazy enough to learn this sport with his kid. About 30 minutes into the first 2 hour lesson I couldn’t feel any of my extremities, had sore muscles everywhere, bruised up my knees and butt, slammed my head against the snow multiple times and was exhausted. Although the instructor was very nice and helpful, I finally couldn’t take it anymore and went inside to warm up and get the boots off my aching legs.

I sat in the lodge for the next hour nursing my injuries and feeling like a major looser. Mad at myself for being inside, mad that I had spent all this money on these lessons that I wasn’t enjoying and didn’t want to take and most of all mad at myself that I had taken the risk and had failed. Although I didn’t realize it at the time I had a major turning point in my life while sitting in that lodge. I was frustrated with myself for giving up, which wasn’t new for me, but I realized I was tired of being frustrated with myself. I think it helped that my class was so small. I knew if I didn’t go back out there the instructor would notice I was gone. I decided it was time to give myself a mental kick in the rear and went back out for the last 20 minutes of the lesson. The instructor told me he really didn’t expect to see me again. It felt great that I had already overcome failure simply by going back outside and not doing the expected thing.

At the end of the first lesson we took the chair lift up to try going down the hill. Initially I told them I would wait at the bottom but at the last moment my new confident inner voice spoke and I went up the hill. I was scared to death the entire ride up. How was I ever going to get back down the hill with this thing strapped to my feet? The instructor and my husband both seemed convinced that I could do it and that little bit of encouragement got me started down the hill. I landed on my butt and head a few times on the way down but I made it to the bottom. And I had fun. I was able to laugh all the way down at my falls and those bruises were the injuries of a snowboarder not a failure. I went on to the rest of the lessons with much more confidence. Each lesson I was able to stay out in the cold longer and learn more. I never figured out how to get off the chairlift without falling but I learned to fall with the least amount of injury and get out of the way quickly. During the week I would think about going down the hill and imagine my body properly moving back and forth balancing on the board and getting to the bottom without a fall, it seemed so easy in my mind. During the last hill on the last night of lessons I actually was able to experience that very feeling I had spent the weeks imagining. I went down the hill cutting back and forth as if I was a pro and I didn’t fall once. It was the most incredible feeling I had ever experienced. I had never felt so accomplished and so powerful in my entire life. I didn’t care that the people around me had been doing it all night and gave no thought to it. I had done something that night I had never done before in my life. I had conquered my fears.

That night my life changed forever. I didn’t know how much at the time but almost every day that accomplishment has given me the courage to do something I never would have considered before then. I have talked to people I wouldn’t have talked to before, I have joined groups, led ministry teams, took up running, tried so many new things because I was no longer afraid of failure. I now realize that I fail to fail just by trying. Not everything I do works out as well as it did that night on the hill but I am just as thrilled to know I tried. My success comes from living my life, trying new things and being open to new experiences. I am still afraid of some things and I feel OK with that. I will never skydive and I don’t feel like a failure for not doing it. But I no longer avoid the things I really want to do but never admitted it because I was afraid of failing. I am living my life now and loving every minute.
The first part of my life I focused on being a success at failing. I failed if I didn’t win or do something perfect so I avoided failure by not trying anything. Now I spend my life succeeding because I measure my success by my willingness to take the risks. I have had so much fun trying new things and accomplished so much more in the past couple years than I did in the first 30 years. I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life active, healthy and taking on lots of new challenges.


  1. The only part missing is the part about the two of us trapped like turtles on our back unable to lift our heads for a month after the lessons.

    Good times....Good times.

  2. looking forward to your next post!

  3. Your feedjit indicates that I might be stalking you.