I’ve talked about failure and success quite a bit in the past. Believe it or not, failure is kind of like an acquaintance of mine. Definitely not my friend, but not necessarily my enemy. Failure feels like a double-edged sword. Without experiencing failure, it is hard to create your path to ultimate success. Everyone responds differently to failure; some use it as an opportunity to reflect, grow, and make changes, while others ignore or deny it. Some use failure as motivation while some use it to hide. No one likes the feeling of failure, and I think it’s natural to want to avoid it. However cliche it might sound, the old adage “no pain, no gain” is applicable to all of us.
I’ve seen many successes and failures throughout my life. Some of them I think about everyday and get that feeling of regret. Things like, “I could have, I should have and I would have” start to race through my brain at times. My most notable failure that I think about literally everyday (and this is no exaggeration), stems back to High School. Senior year at the NYS tournament for wrestling. Winning the Sectional tournament and qualifying for States had been a goal I had envisioned since my 1st year on the Varsity team when I was in 8th grade. I wanted to not only qualify for the prestigious tournament, but I wanted to prove I was one of the best. My goal was to be a state place winner, which is top 6 in the state. By my sophomore year I was fully committed and did nearly everything my coaches had told me to do. I wrestled all year round, traveled to different tournaments all around, cut weight, never took shortcuts and stayed on the mat as often as possible. A lot of people viewed this as me being “obsessed.” I guess they were right to an extent; it was all I thought about every day. But I knew being “obsessed” and putting in 100% was what I needed to achieve my goals.
When the moment finally came and I won the Sectional tournament to qualify for the NYS tournament it was a massive sigh of relief and joy. It was almost an indescribable feeling. All the hard work, the ups and downs and literally blood, sweat and tears all rolled up into one big emotion. And yes, there were literally tears throughout my wrestling career. I am not much of a crier anymore, but my coaches can tell you some pretty funny stories of me crying in my underwear. But this was only one half of my goal at that time. Come the state tournament a few weeks later. I will spare you the excuses for my not so great performance, but I will never forget my last match and the feeling that followed. I was down 0-3 in last period of the “blood round.” The blood round is the last match that decides who gets to battle for a top 6 place finish. The winner moves on and the loser goes home. During the final period of the match I escaped from the bottom position to score 1pt and then executed a beautiful takedown on the edge to tie the match at 3-3. There was about 30 seconds left in the match, when I purposefully decided to allow my opponent to escape giving him the 1pt advantage. My confidence and hunger was at 105%. I knew I was going to take him down for the win and move on to achieve my ultimate goal. I had ZERO doubt in my mind and I knew I was going to make this happen. My adrenaline was so high. I can still feel a small shock of it everytime I think about it. The 30 seconds began passing fast, as my opponent was fleeing and avoiding my aggression. There were some very close takedowns that ended out of bounds. Then with about 5-10 seconds left in the match, I shot my final takedown attempt. The desperate takedown did not go my way. I lost. I failed and it was the most depressing feeling I have ever had to deal with, even today.
After the match, I shook hands and congratulated my opponent who then went on and completely demolish his next opponents to take 3rd place in the state. That could have been me I thought. I went to the back room and cried for a good hour (probably more). I cried about it probably most nights for at least a month. I was defeated, depressed and have never felt a loss like that. I had no motivation anymore. This was the first time I didn’t get up after I fell.
My coach felt my depression and sadness. He always knew the right things to say. He always believed in me. By the spring time I had been recruited and signed to wrestle for SUNY Cortland. This could have been my redemption and my opportunity to achieve a bigger goal. My coach knew I had the potential to be one of the best wrestlers in the country. He would casually tell me I was going to be an All-American in college (Top 8 in the NCAA tournament). He was almost always right on things he would say and he never said things to blow smoke up someone’s ass. But fast forward some years later, I never achieved that goal. Not even close. My college wrestling career was quite sad and pathetic in hindsight and I felt that I had let him down. Truthfully, I never recovered from that High School loss. I never got the spark or will to succeed. This was the 2nd time in my life that I had experienced a major failure.
At the time I had no idea how these failures would be the fuel I needed to become successful later on in life. At that time, if there were a genie, you bet your last dollar I would have turned back time. Reflecting back on things now, I wouldn’t change a thing. My failures were 100% necessary for me to become mentally stronger. It took some time and a lot of reflection. I realized that the feeling of ultimate defeat was not a place that was going to get me very far. No one has achieved anything great by dwelling in self pity. I made a promise to myself to never allow myself to stay down and out. This long lesson on defeat taught me how to become more resilient, even when you put 100% into it. It taught me to always keep my head up, even in the worst of situations.
I feel that I have achieved a lot of success primarily because of my past failures. I don’t necessarily fear failure anymore as I understand it is part of the “winning” process. I may not like failure, but I don’t avoid it. At the end of the day, I’ve come to the realization that my failures have positively influenced me and it is the main reason why I am the way I am and where I am today. Don’t avoid practicing or doing things because you fear failure. Use the failure as fuel for your success. Understand that failure is a necessary part of the process. Practice the things you are not good at, even if you fail often. I am sure many of us can relate to this in the gym (e.g., trying to master new skills we are not confident with) and possibly even at home. Keep pushing yourself along the journey, you might be surprised what kinds of great things can happen if you meet challenges head-on.