The Fear of Failure

Success is easy. Not effortless, but easy.

Success floods the nervous system with dopamine, and as that warm, fuzzy feeling washes over you- as you bath in the radiant light of your successes, you can breathe a deep sigh of relief and satisfaction that all of your hard work has paid off.

Failure is hard. Not difficult, but hard.

Failure is that crushing blow- the empty feeling in the pit of your stomach, the squeezing sensation around your chest as you realize that all of your sweat and tears have been in vain.

Consciously and unconsciously, every decision that we make is weighed by our brains… aware or not, we internally measure our actions based on our perceived probability of success or failure- we, quite logically, want to avoid failure by hedging our bets on endeavors with a high likelihood of success.

This is all very natural, primal even- why embark on an endeavor that will most certainly cost a lot of time and energy, yet have little chance of realization? Why risk the energy? Why bother?

Why? Because sometimes life is about the journey, not the destination.

We tend to stay in our comfort zones- we stick to what we know… activities with predicable outcomes and high rates of success. But on occasion, we’re faced with the unknowable, or maybe an opportunity that has a low probability of success. What then?

At some point you will have to decide- will you wonder what could be? Or will you find out definitively?

Don’t let the fear of failure freeze you in that decisive moment, as far too many of us do. Embrace your fear, and understand that you can become a better person with or without success. The energy and effort you will expend in the pursuit of excellence will pay dividends with or without your proposed end game.

Sadly, this fear of failure is what holds a lot of us back in our pursuit of fitness.

“Sure, it’d be great to do a triathlon, but I could never finish that!”

“I’d love to lose 30 pounds… but I don’t even know where to begin.”

“I’ve never been strong- I’m not sure I can lift that.”

You can’t let the pain of failing at one of these goals stop you from even attempting… what if you lost 29 pounds instead of 30? Is that failure? By definition, sure… in reality? Hell no! That’s an accomplishment- a journey you should be proud of! Or a 295 lb deadlift when your goal was 300- does that make you weak? Not a chance. Was the work you put into your strength program to get to 295 a waste? Absolutely not.

Success and failure are not always black and white: you can fall short of the mark while making great improvements. Sometimes it’s worth risking the possibility of failure for the journey your task will lead you on.

And sometimes, it’s what you do with in the face of failure that defines who you are as a person.

I failed the CrossFit Certified Trainer Examination this morning. I’m a fairly intelligent guy, and I studied my ass of for it… and I failed. I won’t lie- it hurts like hell… it’s never easy to see something you work so hard for fall short of the mark. But do I regret taking the risk? Not a chance. I became a better coach studying for this exam, and knowing the difficulty and outcome, I’d do it all over again.

I’m glad CrossFit HQ has decided to implement these new levels of certifications. I constantly push myself and my coaches to be the best we can possibly be, and I’m sick of hearing about how “you can become an affiliate owner in one weekend.” I’m happy they set the passing rate as high as they did for the L3 (to date unpublished)- it should be difficult to attain, and separate the professionals from the half-assed coaches.

Is it hard to admit that I failed the exam this morning? Yep.

Did studying for it make me a better coach? Yep.

Do I feel like this means I’m a bad coach? Maybe a little… well, more like I feel like I’m a good coach, and I want to be a great coach. But isn’t that what this is about? The journey from good to great?Striving for excellence? And isn’t that what CrossFit itself is about?

Now that I’ve been knocked down, will I give up on the L3? Hell no. Once I’m done choking down my pride, it’ll be back to the books- back to studying techniques, cues, and methods to make my athletes even better. It’s this pursuit of excellence that Coach Glassman always talks about- how can I make things better for my athletes?