“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.” —J.K. Rowling
It’s a new year and a clean slate to be the person your dog thinks you are: rad in every way. Or, if you don’t have a dog, it’s your opportunity to be the person you seem to be on social media. Looking through the calendar, the event schedule, the places you want to ride, what will you do with your precious ride time? Will you go big or will you stay safe and fail by default?
We set our goals each year with grandiose visions of crossing finish lines, arms raised. We imagine the likes and hearts we’ll get on social media for our endeavors. We dream of gliding through technical singletrack, hitting milestones, crushing the power meter, then swilling a cold one as we relish another awesome achievement.
We don’t plan for failure.
We try to hide from it. We don’t visualize falling flat on our face, leaving the course crying, ashamed, battered and bruised. No one dreams of breaking a bone or being lazy as fuck. We save those kinds of visualizations (aka realities) for after they happen. As you plan your epic events and cycling endeavors for the reason, I’m sincerely wishing you some failed experiences.
It’s not because you might be racing against me and I have an overly competitive streak. Of course I want to beat you, but I’m hoping you fail for your own good. Failure is a prerequisite for success. I know this because I’m someone who’s made a practice of failing regularly — because athletes chase the addictive, elusive victory, but the failures are what make them winners.
Babe Ruth is known for his home-run record (714 during his career). What he’s not as known for is holding the record for decades for most strikeouts (1,330 in all). His answer to this statistic? “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”
Failing kind of sucks because it doesn’t feel that great, but the biggest sports heroes tell us we need failure in order to win. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, was actually cut from his high school team. He even kept a record of his pro losses: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life. And that’s why I succeed.”
There is huge value in risking big and setting lofty goals in sports. It’s your chance to try hard, fail and still be OK. The result: You walk away with a grand lesson and some amazing stories to tell around the campfire.
For most of us, we strive to avoid failure at all costs. The consequences for a screwup in life are far heavier than in sports. Your ego gets bruised if that chick in the ugly purple jersey beats you, or you get lost in a 100-miler and end up a DNF, or you flat and run out of tubes and have to walk back to your car. Or you fail to win Italy Divide because you just weren’t as fi t as you should have been, which happened to me last year, but I survived the self-inflicted pain and suffering. It felt very dramatic at the time. I was cold, hungry, lost and hallucinating, but at the finish, the beer tasted fine.
Sport is the only place in our lives where it’s actually OK to fail miserably and repeatedly. Imagine if you failed this way in your job, or paying your mortgage or feeding your family. These kinds of failures are not fine. The bike is the vehicle we can use to really hang it out there and risk more than we would normally. It’s the chance to put on a superhero cape and see what happens when the cape gets caught in your spokes.
Why risk? Why fail?
Science tells us we need to screw up and fall on our faces in order to reach our full potential. In a 2012 study from the Institute of Coaching and Performance in the U.K., a couple of sports psychologists and Ph.D.s explored the topic of “Why Talent Needs Trauma.” These two smarty-pants, Collins and MacNamara, dove deep into the concept of talent development for athletes and concluded that pampered ones just don’t do as well. In order to really excel and reach our own human potential, a regular dose of adversity or trauma is needed. This can come in the form of life stressors, which I don’t wish on anyone, or by taking big risks and hanging yourself out to dry. Only then, when you fail and repeat, do you develop what the scientists call resilience: “the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging circumstances.”
This is the sweet spot where a bike ride becomes more than just a bike ride and a failure becomes more than just an embarrassment. It becomes your pathway to grit, resilience and success.
So make plans to fail greatly! I dare you. Own your failures as they pave your path to a resilient and masterful you. Maybe you’ll even start calling yourself “Babe” or “M.J.” because you’re so rad. Just be sure to document your screw-ups on Instagram or Facebook. Failures, after all, can win hearts too.
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