Failure is okay

Failure is always a matter of perspective. That I learned during my triathlon days. My last three Ironman races 2017 and 2019 felt like failures. I know that sounds absurd because I succeeded every time: Twice I qualified for the legendary Ironman in Kona, and I also finished on the island. “What does that woman actually want?” I asked myself that question, too. What’s wrong with a person who looks at an objectively magnificent achievement as a failure? But it was what it was: I got a lot of praise from others and told myself over and over how outstanding it was that I finished despite the heat, the wind, the cramping, the heat stroke – against all those odds. That was good. Wasn’t it? Yes, you did well. Always think positively. So, I repeated that like it was a mantra and thought it would make me feel satisfied.

But: I only thought this mantra and never felt it. It really was like this: I wanted to podium, and I did not manage that. I failed and it just felt crappy. That’s really the simple truth.

My in circles going thoughts only stopped the moment I embraced this crappy feeling and accepted my failure.

Admittedly: I never really thought my ambition was very likeable. Preferably I would have liked to be one of those spontaneous athletes who dance the night away in bars, trained sporadically and simply just had a ton of fun with herself and other people in sports who don’t care about times and rankings. But I was never like that. I’ve always been one of those who put giant obstacles in their own way. “You always raise the bar too high.” I’ve heard that often (or told myself, at some point you don’t know the difference anymore). The solution seems simple: “Lower the bar.” Before and for that reason I often tried to pretend I didn’t even have such lofty goals. That sounds more likeable, doesn’t it? Because much more than being successful I wanted to be liked. So, you pretend you aren’t aiming for anything big and then surprise everyone. But that is even worse: Like back in school those girls who said: “Oh, I didn’t study at all and totally tanked the test” and then they had an A. Loathsome, I thought.
Realistically I rejected a part of myself for many years instead of embracing it: My ambition.

There are not enough megalomanic women.

Once I understood that and accepted that I, at least from my perspective, failed in these three races I felt better. I had set a goal for myself and did not reach it. It’s that simple. I didn’t make it onto the podium the first time around in 2017, and didn’t even try in 2019, and both times I failed. And as I am writing this down here it actually feels quite okay! I was very ambitious and didn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve. My last three botched Ironman races and I: we’ve made up. And suddenly I didn’t think of my ambition as THAT unlikeable either. Now everything is great. Is it?
But then this happened: After I had just finished writing my novel a person very close to me uttered the following sentence: “You have to reckon that your book may not be a success.”

This sentence was actually repeated numerous times and was definitely “meant well”. It was supposed to prepare me to better be able to handle this terrible, looming defeat.

To this I’ll say one thing: What is success and what isn’t is only up to one person in this case: Me. Surprisingly enough it’s not my intention to win a Nobel prize or write a New York Times Bestseller. What I wanted was to write down the story I have in me. To write a novel. That was my goal. And I’ve accomplished that now. With regard to writing I can honestly say: I’m already successful. The book is finished and has already delighted ten test readers. That is a success. In this I cannot fail anymore. In the end it doesn’t matter what the others consider a success.

It matters what you expect from yourself.

Whether you display it outwardly or not you can decide for yourself. Important is only that you make an agreement with yourself about what you want and do not let anyone rain on your parade. The way I know myself and my ambition I will set some new goals for myself now. Maybe to sell 1000 copies or something like that. No idea. One thing is already clear though. I will fail again. In writing as well. Guaranteed.

But: Failure is okay. If you set a goal you could fail. Quite simply. And if you have lofty goals failure is a lot more probably than if you had small goals. Simple equation. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have lofty goals (after all: it might also work out). That just means: It should never be the other people who tell you what your goals are. Be honest with yourself and decide for yourself what a success means for you!