Build to fail

Here is one of my more impressive failures in life.

After dedicating 9 years of my life to the art and science of being the best possible triathlete I could be I failed to race fast enough in the end to retain my elite license. I could not continue racing in the professional field. I simply could not execute well enough after a decade worth of work on a singular focus.

While having that singular focus on being an elite athlete, over a 9 year period, I lived in three states, worked with four coaches, met and married Christa, started a coaching business and went into remission from Meniere's Disease.

Until I formally started on a path of sticking my neck way out into the wind with endurance sports I was stuck in a city with no jobs for me, unending relationship drama, life stress I couldn't cope with and absolutely no direction.

Let's be clear, I did race in the professional field of many triathlons over the years. This is a huge win. However, much of that journey to each of those start and finish lines was full of failure.

Chief among my failures was not appreciating the moments I was in. Failing to understand how to be present and how to focus on being the best I could be (not being the best others could see).

I failed to understand how to grow from my failure.

I obsessed over outcomes and how people perceived them. Despite no one really paying attention anyway.

My focus was never on having fun. I didn't spend time thinking about what I was enjoying about the process. Everything was a means to an end. Go faster, win races. And yes, I typically failed at the singular focus I was engaged with.

What failing meant

We are the sum of our life experience. The things we experience. The knowledge we gain. The success AND failure.

The few times I experienced success while racing I simply reinforced a myriad of terrible ideas and tactics. I learned nothing.

While it has taken me a long time to appreciate my years of continued failures in racing, I am now a much more rounded person because of them. I'm a more empathetic coach. I have much more context.

Failing at racing for so many years has brought me to where I am right now. For the better.

To quote a coach who has seen his fair share of success and failure over the years...

Where else would I rather be, than right here, right now?

Marv Levy (former Buffalo Bills coach)

Apply the failure

I want you to build to fail. You need to build yourself up so you can fall flat on your face. Intense sounding, amiright?

Why on earth do I want you to build to fail? The answer is resilience: to build the capacity to recovery quickly from difficulty. The ability to spring back into shape.

In endurance training and in life, we want resilience. The only way to truly build that is to fail. Repeatedly. And build from that.

It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.

J.K. Rowling

Fail first

Fail first. Said another way, do things that scare you, take chances, go out on a limb, make yourself uncomfortable. Do things that will potentially or ultimately end up as a failure.

The first part of that last paragraph sounds reasonable, the second part sounds harsh. You and I have been conditioned over the years to think in failure-averse ways. We've been taught that failing is bad.

Failing is synomymous with not doing well in school, not reaching initial goals (outcomes) and not achieving something everyone thought you should. Failure is consistently reinforced as a negative part of our lives (unless you work in the tech space).

I challenge you to think of failure as a positive part of your growth process.

I have had the hardest time sharing over the years because of a fear of failure. That I would fail to resonate with people. I would would fail to say something that mattered. I would fail my own expectations, however unrealistic they were (and are).

At various points in my life this fear of failure has severely stunted my growth process. This was most prevalent during my triathlon career.

Failure is about iteration

Failure is truly about trying different things. Understand what does and does not work. Take the example of J.K. Rowling, she was rejected a dozen times before someone realized what Harry Potter could be.

Think about your favorite athletes, do you know how many times they have failed to win? Failed to complete a workout? Failed to hit a goal? (Struggled through a 50 mile ultra with severe injury issues....)

We all fail. And we should. So that we can understand what does not work. To fail is to be human. Failing is the natural building process to learn about optimization, success and achievement. Most failures are already incredible achievements in themselves.

But here's the thing. You should fail AND you should do something with that failure. Learn from it. Build on it.

Building on failure

With the right attitude, the more you fail the more you build resilience. That learning process is essential to be your best.

Each failure is a stepping stone you need to reach your true potential, whatever that might be. And regardless of whether or not that potential is the ideal you have in your mind.

Just like this little doggy, you too can get back up and try those stairs again! via GIPHY

Which brings us to empathy. For yourself.

Everyone fails. No one is perfect. It is ok. This makes us human.

The person who never made a mistake, never learns something new.

Albert Einstein

Understand that your ability to fail and work through that process is what inevitably allows you to succeed. Have empathy for yourself.

Examples of failure are everywhere.

Not hitting certain watts on a bike workout. Falling apart on a run. Missing a goal race time. Being turned down from a number of jobs. Being passed over on a dating app.

Have you failed at any point? Yes you have.

Have you learned from it? Probably not as often as you should. I certainly didn't (and still struggle).

You have failed

And look at you now. Still marching forward. Learning, adapting, growing, building.

Build to fail enough times and you will see the success you seek.

Today is a good day to fail at something :)

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Nick Brodnicki

March 13, 2021