When I was a kid, I believed I could do anything, be anything, take any risk and succeed. Now, as a college student, failure waits around every corner. I see failure as that monster on the hill, looming over the fearful villagers wondering how long they have until no more happily ever afters, until the villainess monster overruns the peaceful village. But what if failure turns into a good thing? A great thing, even? My senior year of high school, I wanted to do something grand. Something I could be proud of and something I can scream about from the rooftops: “I DID IT!” While some may argue that the Leo in me came out, I choose to credit my ambitious nature. After all, why can’t I accomplish what I set my mind to? I had “concrete evidence” drawn from the childhood TV shows with trademark happy endings on my side.
Thus, with confidence, I set out to achieve my mission: complete an Iron Man 70.3. (AKA swimming 1.2 miles in open water, cycling 56 miles and finishing with a 13.1 mile run)
At first, training six days a week did not pose a tall order. Nothing was going to stop me from completing this race: not my hatred of running, not getting in an outdoor pool on cold December nights, not even my fear of cars after almost getting run over while cycling. But as the distances increased week after week, so did my exhaustion. I pushed it aside, just as I did any social event I was invited to (because of training conflicts). I kept going. I signed up for a sprint triathlon, half marathon and then Olympic Triathlon as check points in my training.
When they cancelled the sprint triathlon the night before due to flooding, it didn’t stop me from racing. That very night, I planned a makeshift race with my dad at our local beach. With the anticipation and work I put in for this race, nothing could stop me from finishing. With minimal scheming and much prepping, the plans were set. And the next morning, I raced against myself.
I can’t recall ever feeling as empowered as I did that day. The experience only pushed me onward.
Next up: the half marathon. As someone who previously despised running even 100 yards, it felt incredible completing this event. However, I didn’t anticipate the nagging feeling of missing out on the social aspect of my senior year, especially after the COVID-19 lockdown. The nostalgic memories indicative of a senior year experience seemed out of reach. I always wanted to do a school musical, but I could not commit with my training schedule. I wanted to go to our winter dance but could not attend with my Olympic triathlon starting at 7 a.m. the next day. Slowly, with dejection, I realized that I could not have it all. Sacrifices have to be made. And, as hard as it was, I made them.
On a Thursday afternoon in February, I walked into the audition room for the school musical and never looked back.
While I will never be able to tell the tale of accomplishing the remarkable feat of completing an Ironman 70.3 as a high schooler, I feel grateful for how it shifted my mindset in regard to failure. Just because you have a dream you fail to accomplish doesn’t actually make it a failure, simply a dream deferred. I won’t ever relive my senior year of high school, but I do have the rest of my life to race an IronMan 70.3. The transition back into my life before training felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. With the stress, strain and time pressure suddenly gone, I felt liberated. I actually kept up running and recreationally swam on the weekends, forgoing biking— my least favorite leg of the race.
I did the school musical, which ended up as one of my most fulfilling experiences to date. And somehow, I also ended up winning Homecoming Princess at the dance I couldn’t attend if I did compete in the Ironman 70.3. I continued doing half-marathons since running them became a bit of an acquired taste (who would’ve figured?) I could choose to view those endless hours I put into training as a waste. But ultimately, I saw the experience as an opportunity to adjust my life in a manner that allowed me to live it the way I truly wanted.
I remind myself of this whenever success feels out of reach in college.
At the end of the day, failure tests the mind. Not only tests it but also acts as a learning lesson that a slight shift in perspective can turn into the end-all be-all of happiness. Rather than fearing that monster on the hill, you could simply invite it to dinner. Readjusting expectations exposes how the fear of failure is more smoke and mirrors, an illusion, than a concrete obstacle. So, don’t let it hold you back, you never know what flowers might blossom from the seeds of failure.