What a strong word to start a Monday! Failure is the word we do not like to hear. It leaves a bitter aftertaste in our mouth, gives us anxiety, makes us sweat and stress simply because we associate failure with a negative from very early on.
On the other hand, we get a figurative or literal round of applause when we perform well. We feel warm and fuzzy, loved and supported. Success is a positive.
The way we go to reach that wonderful “we made it!” moment is, however, not our primary point of focus, especially if that kind of success is new to us. In our minds, we think Point A to Point B, and see it as a straight progression from novice to expert over a certain time period. We don’t think of possible mishaps, challenges and setbacks that might pave the way. We don’t want to think of failure as a possible outcome.
Failure is, however, what makes us succeed. We were not made to learn without failing. We excel at a new skill after countless repetitions of that skill. It is very rare that anyone manages to do anything perfectly on a first try. It might take some naturals three tries instead of twenty, but these people will still face failure before they succeed. They will still fall before getting back up and try again.
There is value in showing up. I am not judging the value of giving a participation trophy to anyone who showed up, but rewarding a good behavior of consistency is a step in the right direction. Now consistency is paramount to any progression. It is because we practice one skill over and over and regularly that we manage to improve on that skill, and we can build up and learn a new skill. When you watch videos of athletes who can run fast, do back flips with bikes over ramps, jump the apex or perform any extraordinary physical effort, you rarely think of all the work they put in to reach that level. You just see the result. You see their most amazing execution of a skill that they definitely trained for and repeated many times over before being able to do it so seamlessly.
I watched this video of Tony Hawk – who’s a skateboarding legend – trying to skate this very challenging downward spiral loop (video can be accessed here). The guy has a ton of skating experience. But he decided to skate this loop and he committed to it. The video is really well made because it shows his grueling path of failure until he finally succeeds and tames the ramp.
Bringing it down to roller derby and the first stumbling steps of being a Freshie to becoming a more advanced skater, we forget to tell ourselves that we are going to go down a grueling path of failure in order to become the success stories we want to be. We will have to learn to fall and get back up to play effectively. We are going to experience a lot of negative emotions because failure does not feel good. Our job is to overcome the negativity in order to push through and keep moving forward.
So failure is not bad. Failure is good. Failure is necessary. Failure makes us stronger. Failure makes us better. Despite knowing that, there is nothing more difficult than dealing with failure and not letting it take us down. This exercise requires a lot of support, and re-assurance, and love. Love for what you are trying to accomplish. Love for this new version of yourself you are building, time after time.
It takes a strong and resilient mind to believe you can do it. Certain things your body will try to accomplish will feel impossible. The journey starts in your mind. Talking to yourself in a “less than” kind of way, in a “I’m not going to make it” kinda way is a recipe for quitting. And yes, quitting is failure, but not the kind that helps you achieve a goal. Persistence prevails. Patience is key.
Are we as persistent and patient as we would like to be? Are we willing to put in the work, to sacrifice hours and hours of our time to achieve success? Most of the time, we are not. Quitting is the easy way out. Persevering is the difficult way through.
So yes, you don’t skate fast, or plow, or hockey stop, or do anything that you see other skaters do. “Don’t” doesn’t mean “can’t”. In the past three years that I have been involved with roller derby and roller skating in general, I have seen people persevere and succeed, and people quit. There is no right or wrong in persevering or quitting. It’s a decision each and everyone of us makes and sticks by. You can’t, however, keep telling yourself you can’t do it if you’ve decided to persevere. You have to stop looking at failure like it’s a monster that’s going to bite your head off. You have to stop being afraid to fail.
I have learned to embrace failure. I actually sometimes embrace failure a little too much. I have built this trend of failing the first time, and making it the second time in most of the things I attempt. Roller derby wise I usually make the second time a fiftieth time. There are some mental blocks I need to overcome, and they take a long time, but I do not fall prey to the “I’m less than” BS talk anymore.
Because that talk is real. That talk happens. It happens especially a lot when things do not go as planned (straight line from Point A to Point B) and doubt settles in. Failure comes. Failure stays. One try after another, it becomes harder and harder to break the vicious cycle of “I’m going to quit, this is not for me” talk.
Embrace failure. Make failure a friend instead of a foe. Fall and keep getting back up. Learn a way to break down a skill that is particularly hard for you to master. Keep repeating the motion until you are comfortable performing that skill. Be in control of your mind to be in control of your body. The seed of success is planted if you believe in yourself. Watch it grow. Do not rip it out because failure makes you feel inadequate. Do not rip it out because you had a bad day.
There is so much to learn and do in roller derby at any stage of your journey. We want to jump the apex before we are able to jump anything. We want to juke a two blocker wall before we are able to understand the power of our edges, and how our body should be moving. We want to be at the top of the mountain without climbing it. Failure will teach you the best way to climb that mountain. I promise you if you decide to keep going, you will reap your rewards. You will pass your skills. You will skate twenty-seven laps in five minutes. You will block or jam and be effective at it.
Embrace the learning curve. Embrace the entire process. Be kind to yourself. Fight through doubt. Look at failure as a stepping stone, not a negative.
I know it is easy to feel like you are not good enough. I know it is easy to tell ourselves that we are not cut for this. Guess what? Anyone can learn and play this sport. This is one discipline that will not discriminate based on size, shape, strength, athletic background… This is a chance for you to transcend yourself. This is a chance for you to take control, and write your own history. Failure and success will be part of it. Focus on the big picture. Repeat the motion until it’s yours.
With practice, you WILL get it.