I have been fortunate to learn the art of how to fail gracefully through years of playing competitive sports. Failing gracefully is a valuable skill to carry into your adult life. It’s a work in progress, but as a result, I am a better mother, friend, partner, and functioning person in society.

What does it mean to fail gracefully?

Failing gracefully is not always beautiful. Failure often means pushing through discomfort and awkwardness. We are dropped into situations that are beyond our control. These situations challenge our life skills that may not yet be fine-tuned. Learning to deal with failure itself is a learned skill. When you fail gracefully, you are mastering a life skill that will allow you to make progress and grow. As a parent, when I fail gracefully, I have the opportunity to become closer to my children. I spend less time focused on things that are not truly rewarding.

I am guilty of yelling at my kids, something that makes me cringe because I grew up in a house that was all about yelling. Failing gracefully is about moving forward and growing. So, after give myself a nod and accept that it just happened, I quickly move towards an adjustment. I’m not going to defend it, I am going practice a better way to communicate.  

As a young adult, I would practice for hours at golf. My hands would bleed on some days. I would then sign up to play in a tournament, and play really well until the last few holes. This always led to tears, screaming matches with my parents, and anxiety. I had a great golf coach who sat me down one day and asked me “Have you ever considered that you’re afraid to succeed as much as you are afraid to fail?” I was living in a cycle of fear that was preventing me from making progress.

There was no lightbulb as I wiped my tears and made my way home that day. I knew I had more work to do, but I realized it was about working on myself more than my golf game. The process is ongoing because truthfully, “failing gracefully” is a value in itself. At its core, failing gracefully is courage and perseverance.

The keys to the kingdom of graceful failure

If you feel like you’re ready to fail gracefully, here are a few key areas that require some self-reflection to get you on the right track:

Embrace good values

We live in a world that places a lot of emphases and often rewards really bad values. Likability is a great example of a really crappy value. There are a lot of people that literally get paid for the number of likes and visits. This business transaction does not translate into a good personal core value. If you are chasing the highs that come with likability, you’re going to be incredibly disappointed with the poor results produced by “popularity.”

Growing up in my house, I think we were always yelling because there was a power struggle to “win.” The loudest person was perceived as the most “right” person or having the last word made you the winner. I carried this mentality into adulthood and it takes a lot of conscious effort to break away from bad values. Trust me, find some good values because the bad ones will eventually have a negative impact on your relationships and your life will sag with a feeling of emptiness.

You will find endless rewards if you chase values that are geared towards growth as opposed to goals that are finite or tangible, like a really nice car. My partner and I embrace a spirit of adventure in our home. Sure, we each have a lavish dream vacation in the back of our minds. We may work really hard to get that vacation on the books one day. But, that vacation is not what we value. It is just a small product or representation of the culture, food, newness, people, and experience that we seek as part of that adventure.

Whether it is a trip to Bali, or tromping through our yard, we push ourselves and our kids to see the world through curious eyes. To appreciate and celebrate things or people that are different than what we may expect. When we fail to embrace the spirit of adventure, we force ourselves to reset and try to see the world with an adventurous perspective.

Suffer through the process

One of the most painful core values that I have is fitness. I love playing competitive sports. Unfortunately, as I get older, the process is full of far more suffering. Sadly, in more ways than the physical suffering from soreness or pulled hamstrings.

Because fitness and being active are so important to me, I have to find creative ways to participate. I work full-time and have two small children, I have tried and failed in many ways to squeeze fitness into my life including countless gym memberships and fighting through more soccer injuries.

My most recent failure is signing up for a Spartan Race. I showed up for that and did not even run it. I was peer-pressured into a destination race with a group of friends. When I showed up to the destination, I was feeling fairly confident that I could finish this race. But, I was feeling the torture of knowing how much fun I was not going to be having in the process.

When I sat down and had a serious check-in with myself and state of mind, I realized that I did not want to do it. Not because it was going to be hard, but the suffering through miles of mud, bees, and stupidly high obstacles was not “fitness” to me. It was torture. So, as my friends arrived at the rental house, I proudly announced that I would not be running the Spartan Race and I was instead going to take half the day to hike the beautiful mountains of Asheville. Hiking for a few hours was suffering enough in the North Carolina heat. I was still sacrificing that time of my day to sit along the river and have beers, which is what I really wanted to do.

Find momentum

In the end, I was able to enjoy an afternoon with my friends while pursuing fitness. I had to suffer through my own mental torture to get to the point of being honest with myself though. Once I was honest about what I truly enjoyed about fitness, it opened the door to a great experience. That was my very first step towards growing into my fitness goals.

For years I have been trying and failing at this. I’ve managed to stay active, but have failed to find enjoyment in fitness which leads to a series of failed routines. Embracing what I love about fitness needed to be my first step to create momentum. It cannot just be about being active.

My new mindset has created a seamless routine between my workday, parenting, and getting on my Peloton or participating in a Barre3 class. Because I enjoy these activities, I find that it is easier to tackle the challenge of being fit one day at a time. I don’t’ always have the energy or the motivation to do it. But, every single day I do it, I create more momentum towards what I value, being fit and healthy to share a long life with my family.

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