I read Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly last year. It was a fascinating and inspiring read. One sentence that I returned to over and over again is this:
“What’s worth doing even if I fail?”
I signed up for a Sprint Triathlon in July. It was out of my comfort zone. Way out of my comfort zone. I was physically prepared, but not quite mentally prepared. I panicked in the open water and was unable to finish my swim. The race rules allowed me to go ahead and do the bike and run. As I crossed the starting line on my bike my first thought was ‘Dammit! Now even if I hate the rest of this experience I still have to try again.’
I went home and tried swimming laps in my regular pool. And I panicked. I swam six days a week all summer and panicked. I put myself in that water as often as possible. My trainer
tortured drilled me in the water. And I panicked. (‘Becky, there’s no crying in swimming.’ ‘I’m all wet anyway, how do you expect to tell?’) My friends consented to getting up at unholy hours on Saturdays to go open water swimming with me. I panicked.
At one point during the summer it occurred to me that I didn’t actually have to try again. I had nothing to prove. And yet the choice had been made. It was my choice. But to me it was the only choice. I was going to try again. I just wanted to know I could push past the fear.
The Saturday before my second race I had the hardest swim of the summer. I panicked at the edge of the beach. Attempting over and over to get in and just unable to force myself to do so. Finally I was able to do a short swim and then my friend and I drove home.
That afternoon I watched my trainer cross the finish line of his Ironman race. It was pretty impossible not to compare the failure of my tiny workout to the success of his grueling accomplishment. I was incredibly discouraged. He told me to rent a wetsuit and that it would be enough. I had done enough.
My September race was cold enough for that wetsuit rental. And held at a lake with no current. So I knew I had two factors making my second attempt easier than my first. When the horn for my wave went off I did as I was trained and counted to 10 for the bulk of the pack to get ahead of me before I started my swim. A moment later I realized with a shock that I would need to start passing people. This I had not trained for. I loved the buoyancy of the wetsuit. The calmness of the water. I felt stronger than I expected. And I came out of the water several minutes before I thought I would.
I made several mistakes in the rest of the race, costing me those minutes back. But all I wanted to do was to finish. And I did.
What’s worth doing even if I fail? I’m still not always certain what the answer to that question is. I think my July race was worth doing. It may even have been worth doing even if I had stopped there and never tried again, never succeeded in finishing a race.
What I do think is that I prefer to measure my success in becoming rather than in doing. Have I become during this process? Have I grown in the right direction even while I failed? That I call success.
And in this case, my becoming depended at least in part on my failure. The work I put in afterward and the results of the second race gave me a trust in my abilities that I would not have gained if I had been able to finish the first race. What that becoming may be for I do not yet know. I’ll attempt the race in July again. We’ll see how I handle the waves and no wetsuit.