Learning Through Failure In The Social Media Age
Failure is going to happen. It is a simple fact of life. We don’t like it. It is not fun by any stretch of the imagination. But it will happen. Fortunately, all types of failure, the big and the small, make us better human beings. Our failures and struggles are what shape and mold our personalities. They are the building blocks of both our private and public selves, and the persona that we share with the world. I know that my first ever DNF during Stage 6 of 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim 2014 not only made me a stronger swimmer, but much more compassionate. It was my first realization that I would not complete every swim I attempted.
We live in an age in which people display all sorts of information on the internet. It is now possible to instantaneously know everything from what your high school math teacher ate for lunch to who ran two marathons in one week. This communication tool is great, but it also will inevitably lead to playing a round of The Compare Game. You know what game I am talking about. The Compare Game is when you see pictures of trips to beautiful places, or posts about engagements, promotions, and speedy marathon times, and think that you are somehow lagging behind. But remember, we very often present our most polished and proud moments on social media. We post the highlight reel, not the practice footage.
To be honest, I want to see more of the practice footage, and with that, more failure. As a marathon swimmer, my day-to-day workouts are not exactly the most exciting thing to write or post about, but every missed interval, botched flip turn, boring set, and mentally difficult practice is what makes success feel good. It’s important to be proud of sticking with it through those moments!
I had hoped to swim from Plymouth, Massachusetts to Provincetown, Massachusetts on July 9, 2016, but the weather had other plans. A strong ENE wind (exactly the direction I was swimming) would have diminished the probability of a successful landing, and also made it dangerous for everyone on the water. We called off the swim. I didn’t have the time, resources, or mental fortitude to organize a second attempt later in the summer, so I decided postpone until next year. I was really disappointed. Crushed, in fact. I didn’t want to leave my bedroom for a few weeks, and tried to tune everything and everyone out. But what helped bring me back to reality was simply time, sleep, and other swimmers. Swimmers who had been there. Swimmers who knew what it feels like to have put your heart and soul into something for months, only to have a change in the wind take it away. Swimmers who said it was okay to never want to swim again. Swimmers who advised me to harness negative energy, and use it to get back in the water stronger and wiser than before. Swimmers who reached out to help me achieve other swim goals (more on that later). This set back is now a big part of my practice footage, part of the greater struggle that will one day lead to not only a successful crossing of Cape Cod Bay, but the other swims on my radar. Right now I want to destroy that footage in a dramatic and fiery fashion, but I have to keep it because the pain will only make the joy of a successful swim (and my highlight reel) more meaningful. Whenever that may be.
PS- I apologize for the pretentious title.