Learning from Disappointment and Failure

image1Coach Aaron recently completed an Ironman – yet under some very extenuating circumstances. What he has written below is a reflection of what occurred at the event, which to some may be viewed in a disappointing or depressing light, but hopefully those same people will also be able to see the very real, honest, and motivating aspects to his story. While Aaron takes responsibility for what he calls a failure, it’s the way he responds to circumstances which is the most important lesson here. Thank you Aaron for sharing. Please read below.


“I am an endurance athlete, specifically an Ironman triathlete, which is about the furthest thing from a CrossFit athlete. However, there is very little translating or analogies I’m going to have to use in writing about my sport for a CrossFit box’s page. Why? Because sports and fitness on all levels, from an on-ramp class to a Trodo competition to the Ironman World Championships, all share a common trait: the ability to teach us. What we learn in our pursuits is not merely for the sport; it makes us wiser and stronger in our jobs and everyday life. But learning isn’t easy. In fact, many times it’s downright uncomfortable. As we get older, many of us tend to settle into a comfortable place in life and lose touch with the pain that growth brings. This is why I love CrossFit: it reintroduced me to the struggles of growth and the reward of goals met with hard work.


You may not consciously realize it, but goals are a driving force in your CrossFit journey. Whether it’s to shrink your waistline, put up a certain weight, or qualify for the Games, it’s what motivates you to get in the gym. I always encourage other athletes to sit down and write their goals in a timeline in order to sharpen their focus and fuel their progress. It’s not just for the sake of becoming a better athlete. The process also gives us a template for achieving outside of the gym.


What happens when you fail though? That’s what I’m currently dealing with. A few Sundays ago, I raced Ironman Louisville, which was my “A” (or most important) race of the year. The past six months I spent every waking moment preparing for that day, and quite frankly, I blew it. My race was filled with adversity, including a crash on the bike, and I feel that I let it affect me far too much. Honestly, I’m crushed. Beyond crushed. My friends and family have tried to console me by saying that given all the issues I encountered, just finishing was a major accomplishment. Although I appreciate their desire to make me feel better, I believe that viewing this as anything other than a complete failure would be doing myself a grave disservice. Sure, I’d get some temporary relief from my emotional suffering, but I’d miss out on the most valuable part of failure: the learning.


Perhaps no other experience contains as much information and opportunities to learn as does the experience of failing miserably. It’s like a crime scene where a chalk outline of  your dead dream is surrounded by forensic evidence and clues as to what went wrong and why. Your first instinct is to probably walk away and spare yourself the pain of thinking about it. But if you dig down and study the scene, you can start piecing together where things went awry. Instead of consoling yourself, be real and own your mistakes. Take stock of what you did wrong and what you could have avoided. These frank assessments are in the DNA of success. Some of the lessons that are most instrumental in reaching your goals can’t be learned without failing along the way.


By no means is this an enjoyable experience. It hurts. This one hurts especially bad for me. Perhaps this is the reason that many of us become complacent in our places in life. We choose to be safe in order to protect ourselves from the sting of defeat. The greater the goal, the greater the risk. My risks this year were not rewarded, but I’m owning my failure and sifting through the forensic evidence one painful piece at a time.


This specific race reinforced a few lessons for me. First, we create our own luck. Take the best in their field, whether they are an athlete or a doctor or a teacher. They didn’t reach the top by chance, they did it by design. They double check everything, no detail too small, and think of every possible scenario in their preparations. Yes, my little bike spill was a bad break, but I could have minimized the chances of it happening. Ironman Louisville is a rolling swim start, meaning that your race starts when you hit the water. It takes almost an hour for 3,000 athletes to jump in the Ohio River, and I decided it was smartest to get extra sleep and get in the back of the line instead of getting up at 3am to claim my space in the front. When it came time for the bike portion though, the roads were congested and I had to constantly fight my way through packs of slower riders. Had I started an hour sooner, I would have have more room to ride and the chances of my wheel getting clipped would have been greatly minimized. This is just one example of a small step I could have taken to change my luck on race day. It may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but this is the attention to detail that is required when you’re climbing the ranks.


Secondly, I was reminded that you can have excuses or results, not both. Something went wrong in every portion of the race for me. Although I didn’t quit, I gave myself permission not to succeed because I encountered legitimate issues. By nature, racing is very binary. You either win or you lose. There is no byline that states what troubles came your way. One must get into the mentality that they will succeed no matter what. There is no hanging on to survive, there is no go try your best, there is only win or lose. My mental game suffered with each bump in the road and I fixated my energy on the obstacles instead of solutions. Excuses don’t help get you to the finish line, so get them out of your head so you can make more room for solutions.


I’m sure some of you may view this post as anything but positive, and I suppose that is true to a certain degree. But I see this as a difficult learning experience that will ultimately lead to success. That success wasn’t this weekend. It may not happen any time in the near future. Eventually it WILL happen though. Being real, albeit frank, with myself today is the first step in the next portion of the long road to my Ironman success.”

– Coach Aaron

by admin in Coach's Tips

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