Learning to fail successfully


Students should learn being successful does not always mean winning. Success is defined by the resilience displayed when someone faces a daunting challenge. Graphic by Hanning Zhu

The gun goes off, and immediately, my instincts take over. A strong start brings me to the front of the pack with girls I’ve been racing all season. We climb the first daunting hill, up the second and arrive at a flat prairie. Around the back loop, one mile done. 

The strength and power I felt at the start of that race, Champs Sports Midwest Region Cross Country Championships, are beginning to evaporate. Girls keep passing me. I’m getting in my head. My arms, my legs, they hurt. I’m scanning the crowd, looking for a glimpse of a familiar face. My mom, my dad? No one in sight. The pain, it’s getting worse. I’m near the forest, the one with the bumpy ground. I’m in pain. I can’t do this anymore. Out of the forest, down the long straightaway. I’m still scanning the crowd for anybody familiar. Finally, my dad appears, whistling and cheering me on like always. But it doesn’t feel the same. Despite seeing my dad, all I feel is pain and exhaustion. I don’t see that I’m in a prime position to qualify for nationals. All I can focus on is the pain and exhaustion. Just like that, my resolve fades, and I drop out of the race. 

Up until that day, I had never quit a race. Like, ever. Yet, a couple of giant hills, tough competition and some anxiety pushed me over the edge. 

The way I felt after dropping out was indescribable. A mixture of pain, heartbreak and disappointment haunted me throughout the two-hour car ride home and the entire week after. 

When faced with adversity, people can become distressed when experiencing difficulties. Many people believe they must succeed no matter what. However, it’s imperative to realize that success doesn’t have to mean winning. Instead, success can be finishing something even when it’s tough enough to mentally and physically break someone. 

Everyday success can be displayed by persevering through academic challenges. Instead of allowing one poor grade to define a student’s overall value, working hard and putting in the effort to continue to persevere is crucial. If someone fails to reach a goal the first time, it’s essential to recognize that goals don’t have to be accomplished at first. When people experience a stressful moment or feel the need to give up, it’s rewarding to know that the hard work they put forth will pay off in the end. 

The perseverance and resilience people display despite the worst situations is what matters. That is what defines success.    

I couldn’t let my cross country season end on a failure. I couldn’t erase all the success I had achieved that season. I couldn’t let one single negative experience define how I felt about myself as a runner. Exactly a week after the Champs Sports Midwest Region Cross Country Championships, I had the opportunity to compete in Huntsville, Ala. at the Garmin Running Lane Cross Country Championships. I finished the race, ran a solid time and placed third, but I would be lying if I said there weren’t any demons I conquered in my head along the way.