Lessons from Failure

As I was jotting down ideas for future posts a sinking feeling accompanied the realization that I had forgotten to meditate yesterday. In itself, skipping a day of meditation is nothing remarkable, but I had set out to complete a 100-day “gong” of meditating for at least 10 minutes each day. Everything was going well for 28 days. I set a reminder on my coach.me app and would either meditate at work or before  going to sleep each night. But with everything working out I suddenly missed a day and just like that my gong started over.


I hate failure. After failing an important task I am usually barraged by the laundry list of past failures. They ambush me and bring up past insecurities. My mind tells me many discouraging things like:

“Why even try if you know you won’t get it done?”


“Who do you think you are to attempt something like this anyways?”

My mind can speak to me with the intensity of a drill instructor and I can almost feel the knife-hand an inch my face. Shame, anger, fear and self-doubt are right there alongside these thoughts and the experience is unpleasant.


Past Mistakes

In the past, I tried to block failures out of my mind and forget about it as quickly as possible after they occur. After all, why would I want to feel bad? Just push it away and move on, right? Unfortunately when I have taken this approach it is not long until I experience a similar unwanted result.


During my time in the Marine Corps I learned to lift weights, but with mediocre form. Like many guys my age I wanted to keep lifting heavier weights as quickly as possible in order to get bigger. Slowing down to work on good form and doing mobility work to increase my range of motion meant I would have to take longer before picking up that next size dumbbell. Nope! I didn’t have time for that. I got away with it for the most part, likely due to my friends who could spot me and keep me from being too reckless. When I came back home it wasn’t long before I started getting hurt.


Each time I would pull my back out or injure my shoulder I would get angry and vow to try harder the next time. Except that next time I would do the exact same thing. Luckily, after so many injuries and time out of the gym I was finally afforded the chance to rethink my failed approach to lifting weights and getting in shape in general. Perhaps it was time to make a change.


Why failure is important


It helps us become better.

Many times failing early can be a great gift.  As Augustín Fuentes points out on, “[f]ailing at something acts to demonstrate limitations, to force us to rethink or reevaluate how we do things, and to learn how to do them better.” Sometimes we get lucky and “succeed” for awhile and can’t point to why it is working out. When things fail it can be a great time to take a closer look at what can be improved. If I hadn’t gotten hurt lifting, I might still be doing the same mediocre workouts and never getting in great shape.


“Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.” –Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido Master.


We will never achieve great success unless we are willing to fail.

The willingness to try something outside of comfort zone his how growth occurs. Playing it safe and never reaching high results in stagnation. When we overreach and “fail,” we have actually grown in experience and can apply that to the next time we attempt something great.  When I signed up to run a Half-ironman with no previous experience in the sport, I was willing to try something way outside of comfort zone because it called to me. There was no guarantee I would be able to do it, but the idea of finishing the race was enough for me to roll the dice.


It builds character


“Failure’s not a bad thing. It builds character. It makes you stronger.” -Billy Dee Williams (aka Lando Calrissian)


Lando failure

Failing to befriend a Wookie.


Thanks, Lando. He obviously learned that selling out Han Solo in Cloud City was a weak move. The he built some character and went on to blow up the second Death Star. But seriously, building character usually involves stepping outside of the ego to see ourselves for who we truly are: imperfect beings that can grow when given the chance to be humbled.


I’ve had the opportunity to be humbled many times in life thus far. One of my top three was trying to bench my one rep max the first week home after being discharged. It’s important to note that my one rep max was from a month prior with no lifting in between. I loaded up the bar  (with no collars) and when I discovered I could not lift it back off my chest, I unintentionally dumped the weights off each side of the bar with a crash and proceeded to fall into the mirror on the wall. Good stuff. As everyone in the gym stopped and stared, my ego took a much needed hit and I learned a valuable lesson about periodization and muscle atrophy. Huzzah!


Though it isn’t fun to be humbled, accepting failure as a lesson is a powerful way to advance ourselves. I decided to restart my 100-day gong of meditating for 10 minutes each day. I hope I’ll make it this time, but if not there will be another lesson to learn and I am okay with that.


Mike can be reached at mike@transitionsfromwar.com

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One thought on “Lessons from Failure

  1. OMGuppy! Reading this came at just the right time. I had to quit beginners masters swimming this week because I was failing. I should have quit sooner, but my ego did not allow. I saw it as a major failure, I mean it’s Beignners masters and I couldn’t keep up. I was suffering major back, hip and knee pain from poor form. I went back into physical therapy and some major weaknesses were identified and we are now working on strengthening those. I go to the pool now to drill and work on form only. When I start to lose my form (the pain tells me), I stop. Failing and stopping? Those were not options for me in the past either. Now I see my what I thought was a failure as a temporary setback that is totally fixable! Im not pressuring myself with a timeline either. The pool and masters swim will always be there for when I’m truly ready. Thank you!

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