To Succeed, Don’t Let Failure Define You
To Succeed, Don’t Let Failure Define You
I believe all of us have the capacity to achieve our biggest, most ambitious dreams. Sometimes though, we forget that the path to success is not a straight line. So, when we hit a wall and fall down, a lot of us don’t get back up. We throw in the towel, say our dream was never meant to be, and say to ourselves, “I am a failure”.
I know this because I first discovered failure at the early age of 17. Bright eyed and full of hope, I was practising hard for an audition into a competitive music course. By this time, I had been playing saxophone for 9 years. I can remember my excitement as an 8 year old when a teacher came into my class and quietly told me, ‘your saxophone has arrived’. I stood up and yelled, ‘YES, MY SAXOPHONE!’, bolting straight out the room to see it. I immediately fell in love with music and, at 17, I knew that playing music was the right path for me.
My teacher, Dino, helped me prepare for the audition. You could have easily mistaken Dino for a teenage boy with his short height and long messy hair were it not for his ridiculously foul mouth. A week before the audition, Dino gave me two pieces of advice. First, Dino said, “You need to say to yourself, ‘This is where I am as a musician right now, and it’s OK’. Second, ‘I can see you’re scared of sounding bad. This is the time for you to give yourself permission to suck.’
On audition day, I set up in front of a panel of professional musicians. I began playing a jazz ballad that made my heart melt with beauty every time I heard it. Two minutes later and the faces of the panelists looked like they had just eaten rotten eggs. A week later my fears were confirmed: I wasn’t accepted. My chest felt tight as I welled up with tears. I told myself, ‘I’m a failure.’ After that, I could not even look at my saxophone, let alone play it. I’d hit a wall, fallen down, and my dream was gone.
Years later – overweight, depressed, and desperate – I embarked on a new dream of getting fit.
In my first ever personal-training session, my trainer barked at me, ‘run 100 metres to the end of the street and back, chop chop!’ Having grown up with the very serious condition, “ass glued to the couch”, this distance looked like a marathon. Nevertheless, I began to run, and for the first 15 seconds I thought I was doing great. Another 15 seconds and I had already changed my mind about the previous statement. Before the minute was up, I was walking back to my trainer – huffing and puffing – and she was shaking her head.
That familiar voice told me, ‘you’re a failure’, and I was ready to throw in the towel again.
Then, my trainer showed me her clipboard where she had recorded how long I had run for. Her face was kind. She said, ‘30 seconds. This is where you are as a runner, and it’s OK. Yes, you’re bad now, but give yourself permission to suck and you’ll get better.’
Suddenly, Dino’s advice years earlier made sense; I understood why I was not accepted into the music course: I practised hard, but I was so scared of hearing myself play badly that I never accepted where I was as a musician. As a result, I didn’t practise in a way that helped get better.
This time was going to be different. I made a commitment to myself for the first time to not give up, but push through the wall and keep going with exercise.
30 seconds of running became 1 minute, then 2 and 5 minutes. Every minute added was another wall I climbed, and two years later and I ran a half-marathon of 21.2km. I remember standing at the top of the hill at the end of that marathon, thinking that the journey was tough but the view at the top – amazing.
My dreams were being ticked off one by one simply by remembering that the path to success meant accepting where I was and having the willingness to suck, suck, and suck again.
Today, I’ve got this new mindset with me whenever I want to undertake a new goal. I recognise that only by making mistakes and learning from them while telling ourselves, ‘This is where I am, and it’s OK’ are we able to achieve new heights.
I’ve taken hula-hooping classes, swing dancing classes, improvisation, cooking, kayaking, trail running, and more! All have been terrifying, but whenever I’ve run into a wall, I’ve pushed through it. I know where giving up gets me, so I fight. I never forget the one thing to know about failure: You can never let it define you. With this knowledge, I’ve never felt more alive.