Fail Again. Fail Better.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett

By and large, most of us will fail in our lives. Some failures are catastrophic and can change the course of someone’s life. Some are smaller but can still hang with us for days, weeks or even years. Medical school is one big experiment in failure, at least in my experience. Just when you think you have a grip on something, more knowledge gets layered on and the expectations and stakes get higher. Inevitably, your first try is an absolute disaster.

In the last two weeks, I’ve had two friends sustain what they deemed as failures and have had a front row seat to the pain of failure. One hit a major career bump. Over the past couple of years, they struck out on an adventurous career path and opted to choose their own adventure instead of walking along the traditional career path. To me, this takes extraordinary courage. I’ve certainly taken an unconventional path to medicine, but my paths here have all been relatively conventional. To step off the beaten path and try it your own way takes courage. And it almost guarantees some temporary failures along the way.

Another friend had a running failure. As I wrote on Saturday, Laurel was starting her first marathon yesterday. Unfortunately, her stomach had other ideas and she was seriously sick by mile 7 and made the smart choice to stop at 13. Understandably, she feels pretty awful today. The marathon is like that. You can survive a 5K or a 10K or even sometimes a half with something going wrong. The marathon, however, is an unforgiving beast. In talking to Laurel last night, I encouraged her to lick her wounds for a couple days then look at the option of trying again in 2 week at Vermont City Marathon. Perfect? No. But getting back up when we get knocked down is how we learn and grow.

Failure is relative too. By most people’s measures, my performance at VCM last year would be a success. For me, it remains a source of pain that I’ll carry until I try the marathon again. Yes, 2:58 is “good.” But when you are trained for 2:50, it stings. Bouncing back from it can be so difficult. Failure may motivate but it also introduces doubt and fear when you start to try something again. As I’m picking a fall marathon and starting to train again, the little voice still frustrated from VCM last year is back on my shoulder as I’m working through workouts that would have been a breeze a year ago, telling me that it isn’t going to go well, that my goals are ridiculous. My job over the next few months is to progressively silence that voice and strengthen the one that tells me to try again.

How do you handle failure? What is your biggest running-related failure?

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