Why Practicing Failure Will Help You Be Happier
I am a reluctant and deeply untalented runner. This beautiful fact is the main reason I can practice being bad at something and just do it anyhow. For five years I've remained stunned at the gifts I've limped away with, no matter how graceless my path becomes. I stumble, I quit, I trudge, I walk and I lapse altogether in this endeavor, but there's some kind of gem that brings me back again and again. And that gem is failure.
For me, running has been my true vessel of fantastic failures. I’m slow and graceless, with no rhythm or gait for it. I don’t pick it up like people do with languages or musical instruments. It’s a struggle and I don’t even really improve much. When I put the practice in, I can go for long periods, but then I’m a bad student as well and never try to do exercises to fix my stride or get quicker. There are tons of things I don’t do to become a “better runner,” because as it turns out, I am not running so I can improve.
This past weekend, after many 5k's, a few 10k's, a couple of half-marathons, and a marathon, I had the opportunity to visit my first race again for the fifth year in a row. I made several bad choices leading up to the race. One is that I didn’t train for it. I knew I wasn’t totally ready.
On top of that, I saw a new trainer the day before and worked muscle groups that hadn’t seen any action since The Breakfast Club opened in theaters. My old coworkers would be there, my new clients, old friends. Plenty of people to embarrass myself in front of. And on the fifth anniversary of this whole thing, my left hip locked up early and I had to do some walking. I finished the race with the WORST 5k time of my life.
And it felt fine. I ended up running alongside people I hadn’t seen in years, chatting with them and catching up. I got to cross the finish line with an ex-coworker who was finishing her very first 5k ever. I actually got to enjoy the park, thank the volunteers as I passed them. It felt just fine to be bad at it. To have made bad choices and let that be ok. For me, that’s the biggest victory I could have.
Being bad at running has given me a ton of incredible gifts so I thought I’d list a few of them here:
1. I run without music or a phone.
Which means for as long as I’m out there, no one can find me. Time is mine and mine alone, so life becomes solely about the moments I have on the run. I'm entirely unplugged and just with it, the breath, the footfalls, my slow pace in my body. There's no way around the fact that I'm choosing this solely for my well-being, and that must mean I have grown some value for myself.
2. I have loved getting to know my city this way.
I feel like such a citizen as I cruise through these neighborhoods. Sometimes people encourage me, tell me to keep it up. Other times they nod back in their run as well, we runners all in it together. I become a citizen of my body this way, counting my breaths, a moving meditation covering more ground than I ever thought.
3. I found that if I can do this, I can really attempt anything.
It made me realize how much joy I rob myself of in this fear of humiliation or looking foolish. If I let myself be bad at something and like it, imagine how much fun I’ve been avoiding because I fear that awkward beginner place. Running has given me broader possibilities in life, and a friendlier relationship to being less than great, which is a much more common experience than being exceptional.
4. My body is healthier. Period.
My willingness to be slow and awkward lets me go to the gym and work out, hit the street and jog, and really practice the idea that what other people think of me is none of my business. Of course people will judge me, but I still have a responsibility to take care of my body. I live here. They don’t.
5. It’s a great way to see a place.
I’ve gone running all over the world. I remember waking up Christmas morning in a hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn. and running over the river, saying Merry Christmas to all these strangers until I found myself weeping a little with the endorphines and the strange open heart they bring.
6. Runner’s high? It’s real.
I experience it as an alchemy of wholeheartedness that shifts my focus each time, always ending each run with meaning on top.
7. Being a terrible runner helped me find my new profession of being a health coach.
That’s a whole other story, but just take my word for it.
8. Being bad at running taught me that sometimes the attempt and the practice are the destination.
I don’t run to become a better runner. I run to practice failing in life, because each failure gives us a million gateways to possibility. In every way, those great failures have brought me here. And it’s a good day.