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Thoughts on failure

The countdown has begun. In a few days, I will officially say goodbye to my 20s and hello to my 30s. Getting older is hardly something to lament, but I have to admit the number “30” has gotten into my head a bit. A little anxious about the change in decade, I’m starting to wonder if I’m missing a step, or getting a little slower in my workouts. The seeds of self-doubt have been planted by what feels like a shift into a new and unknown phase of my life.

I’m sure many of you can relate to how negative self-talk starts to creep into your head at different points in your life, especially ones that feel significant. And it’s not just when it comes to our health, appearance or fitness but it can be occasioned by all of the things that happen in our work and personal lives, too. Your boss yells at you, you don’t get into the grad school of your dreams, your heart gets broken — life’s hiccups can make you start to wonder if you’re failing to be your best self somehow. It’s a slippery slope, though, this kind of thinking, and soon you can find yourself wracked by self-doubt and leading with a negative view of yourself and your capabilities.

There are better ways to process challenges and changes. It may sound silly but when I’m down-and-out, I often think about the famous Michael Jordan commercial for Nike, where he lists all his failures. Instead of beating himself up about each missed shot, he decides to count them as key factors in his success.

It’s a good reminder about how important it is to make the connection between the good things that happen to you in your life and the tougher things, and not to divide them into the categories of “good” and “bad.” It reminds me to see my failures as just another learning curve in the road of life, and to seek inspiration from how other people have dealt with their own. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination” and “having no original ideas,” OK? Everyone has gone through something, or had their talents, skills, or character questioned. They didn’t give up, or take the negative effects into their head. Like Jordan, they had the wisdom to see how their difficulties connect to the big picture.

Muscles don’t grow without stress and challenge and neither do human beings. Obstacles keep us on our toes; without them we get complacent, entitled, and frankly, a little spoiled. It’s in times of stress that you have to call on your inner strength —you may have to change even— and when you do, you realize something that you can’t learn in times of prosperity: that you’re the one in charge of how you respond to life’s ups and downs. That realization should build your self-confidence not destroy it.

So, faced with my new private (and yeah, admittedly a little silly) challenge of chasing away my negative thoughts about getting older, I’m rewriting the script in my head, Michael Jordan-style. But instead of counting my failures, I’m starting to count my blessings. I can move better and more efficiently than I could three years ago, I’ve tuned into my mental strength and am committed to its continued development, and I have a much bigger supporting cast to help me push through the tough times. Sounds like I have more to celebrate this year than I thought.

Broder McNeill is a coach and co-owner of Alchemy CrossFit. 

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