Mistakes are gifts. When we screw up or face big setbacks, we can learn from those experiences and reset our resolve to achieve goals and live the life we want. Behind every successful and happy person are many big mistakes and failures. The mistakes themselves don’t really matter. It’s what you do with them that makes all the difference.
Good examples of this in sports are Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time, who was cut from his freshman basketball team. Or Ann Trason, the greatest ultrarunner of all-time, who DNF’d at her first two Western States before winning the sport’s most iconic race 14 (!) times.
If everything was easy and things always went as planned, the world would be very boring and many great achievements would never have happened. But recently I’ve noticed that a fear of mistakes and failure seems to be more widespread than ever and is stifling people’s actions. I have no data on this and there are many great exceptions, but I’m seeing people avoid taking chances and not chasing their dreams, hewing to a need for perfection. And in so doing they aren’t realizing their full potential or living the lives that are meant for them.
I’m talking about people who are unhappy but don’t do anything to change their situation. People who feel judged by others or pressured by well-meaning parents to succeed and be happy. This trend is fueled by social media and the spotlight that it can shine on a person’s every action. People’s persona on social media is most often a curated image of: “hey look how great I am and my life is.” All this perfection splashed across electronic screens all day and night can be de-motivating, or worse. How often do people post about their screw-ups or take selfies when they are having a bad hair day?
The younger generations seem more impacted by this dynamic – at exactly the time in life that they need to be having new experiences and learning from them. I remember in the 1970s a very common (but totally over-used) saying: “go for it.” We should all do new things, dream and take chances – and encourage others to do the same. The difference between living your destiny or your fate is taking big risks and persevering through failure to success.
One of the many great things about ultrarunning is that it is all about trying new things, taking chances and making mistakes. Ultrarunners train massively, pay large sums and spend their lives preparing for races. But they make mistakes all the time – going out too hard, eating the wrong things, choosing the wrong gear, chafing and the list goes on and on. Ultrarunners embrace those mistakes, learn from them, adjust and come back at the next race with a vengeance. In fact, both ultrarunners of the year, Camille Herron and Jim Walmsley, each had two big, high-profile DNFs in 2017 – yes, even the tip-top performers in our sport are taking risks and failing on the biggest stages. Hurray for that!
Maybe part of why our sport has grown every year of its recorded history (since 1981 based on our results database), is that it is a welcoming and safe arena to dream big and fail colossally. Thank goodness for ultrarunning.
Go for it more this year and may your every run be a great one.