Fear of failure: gaining a new perspective

“’What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?’ I pushed that question out of my head to make room for a new question. As I walked up to the stage, I literally whispered aloud, ‘What’s worth doing even if I fail?’”

~ Brené Brown from Daring Greatly


A couple of months ago I was part of a team that failed an ultra relay, but it was worth every minute of the 24 hours we put towards it. A perfect storm of car problems, gut issues, stress, fatigue, and the beginnings of injuries led to my Ultra relay team making the difficult decision to drop out of the Smoky Mountain Relay early in the morning of the second day of the race. I did not write a race recap for the DNF because 1) it was kind of a blur, 2) there wasn’t a full race to write about, and 3) everything that led up to the decision to drop out was pretty much out of our control so there wasn’t that much to dissect and try learn from for next time. That being said, another reason I probably didn’t write about it on my blog is that it would be admitting this failure publicly, on the internet, for anyone to read about.

Below I want to go into failure a little bit more, or at least my own relationship with failure. But first, some pictures from the race!


Morning of day one of the race, gotta love the Smoky Mountains!


A baby goat we encountered on a winding mountain road!


Me running up Wolf Mountain I think


The giant puncture wound that killed our van tire 😦


Our Ultra team at the start of the race


Thinking about failure:

My major fears are failure, rejection, and embarrassment. These all kind of go hand in hand but I don’t like to experience any of them individually either. I don’t think they are uncommon fears but I know that they personally can hold me back. For instance these fears hold me back when trying to learn a new language – I don’t practice because I fear embarrassing myself when screwing up while learning it, (even though that is a natural part of learning anything!) therefore I don’t actual learn the language, or really even attempt to learn it.

The quote at the top of the post, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” is a favorite of Tim Ferris, a blogger/writer/podcaster I follow. His new show, The Tim Ferris Experiment, goes through him learning new skills rapidly, from a new language to tactical weapon use, for his own personal enhancement and television entertainment, but mostly in order to prove to people that they can as well. He sets up some pretty high stakes with elevated risks of failure and embarrassment, like having to speak the language on a live TV show, or drumming with a famous band at a concert. I’m finding through watching these episodes on itunes that in my life I need to be focusing on the last part of the above quote “What’s worth doing even if I fail?” Are these running races worth doing even if I fail? To me they are!

The ultra relay was my first DNF. I knew upon entering the world of endurance sports that I would eventually have to face one or have to make the incredibly difficult decision to abandon a race. I think what made this different was that it was a team decision and not my decision alone. It is possible I would have been harder on myself if I had been doing a solo race and decided to “quit.” But what I need to keep telling myself is that getting to the starting line is sometimes enough. I’m at a point in my endurance/athletic trajectory, that races will never go perfectly, in fact the conditions and circumstances may suck. A DNF in absolutely shitty conditions is not “quitting” it is probably avoiding injury. The fear of not finishing should not keep me from signing up for races, because I love races! I know they are worth it because I love the trails, the people, the atmosphere, etc.

Is it worth putting my body under strain in possibly terrible conditions when there is a risk of failure – you bet it is. I need to start having this same mentality with other things in my life too.

What is worth doing even if you fail?


One response to “Fear of failure: gaining a new perspective

  1. Pingback: Team Banana Kills: Smoky Mountain Relay 2017 | postgradjourney·

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