When I was 12, I nearly drowned trying to impress a cute boy. I might be exaggerating slightly, but at the time I thought it was a legitimate possibility and apparently, so did my mom. Read on…
I was in the seventh grade and one of my P.E. teachers convinced me to play for his after school co-ed water polo team. Being that I was pretty good at sports (or at least most sports), I figured why not?! Before I get to the part where I nearly drowned, however, you should know that the sports I was “pretty good at” all happened to be land sports and that beyond swimming lessons as a small child and the occasional splashing around in my backyard pool, I really hadn’t spent much time in the water.
Fast forward to the first day of practice, also known as that time I almost drowned. I was donning my brand new one-piece Speedo, swim cap and goggles and totally looked the part. Everything was going great…until I actually had to get into the pool. We weren’t even two minutes into the warm up (which consisted of basic laps across the width of the pool) when I said to my twelve-year-old self, “Self, what the fuck were you thinking!” With each stroke it became more and more apparent that this was not going to end well, but I’m so competitive (and there was that cute boy I was trying to impress) that I refused to quit. Despite my stubborn persistence, however, my arms and legs were like dead weights, pulling me down instead of propelling me forward. This is it. This is how I’m going to die, I thought. And then I heard the piercing, but sweet sound of a whistle, which meant we had a short break before doing another round of laps.
As I clung to the side of the pool, my head spinning, chest burning and pride dwindling, I looked up, wide-eyed to see the face of my guardian angel (also known as my mom) crouching toward me. Halle-freaking-lujah, she’s still here, I thought. Knowing that her youngest child is also her most determined and stubborn, she had left the pool area upon dropping me off only to stand just outside the gates where she could still see me (thank God!). “Honey, do you want me to tell the coach that something came up and you need to leave?” she said. Being that I was still breathless from the first round of torture, I mean laps, all I could muster was an up-and-down nod of my head. And with that she pulled me out of the water, wrapped me in a towel and whisked me off, my overwhelming feeling of disappointment and shame quickly replaced by a sense of relief and gratitude as soon as my feet hit that pool deck.
My water polo career may have been short-lived (or basically nonexistent since I never even touched a ball), but at least I gleaned two great lessons that day—one, that no boy is cute enough to drown for and two, that it’s okay try something new and completely fail at it; it’s how you respond to the failure that matters. In this case, avoidance; that’s how I responded. I completely avoided said cute boy and coach for several months after the fact. Hey, I was twelve!
In all seriousness, though, learning to accept failure has been one of my toughest lessons in life and is one that I still grapple with today. As mentioned in my About page I am a recovering Type-A perfectionist, so up until a few years ago, whenever things didn’t work out how I’d planned (standard) or I fell completely flat on my face (figuratively speaking), I was devastated and would dwell over the fact that I had “failed” rather than picking myself up and trying again or simply moving on altogether.
Failure is never fun or easy—and it’s certainly not something I set out to endure—but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize and appreciate that there’s usually a reason for it. Whether in a relationship, a job, a DIY project or trying something new, the bottom line is that SHIT WILL INEVITABLY GO WRONG! It’s the way you handle those setbacks, however, that determine how quickly you move forward and the direction in which you do.
In the ever so poignant words of JK Rowling, “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.”
And with that, I challenge you this: Ignore your fears and put yourself out there, whatever the circumstance, knowing full well that failure is as much a possibility as success and see where the experience takes you—you might be pleasantly surprised! That or you’ll need a good group therapy session (read: wine with your girlfriends or beers with your buddies) to work through what went wrong. Either way, at least you tried and now you have a good story to tell. You can thank me later (haha).
– S A D Y E E V Y N R E I S H
Speaking of stories, I’d love to hear your tales of failure and the lessons you learned! Feel free to share in the comments below…