Sometimes falling is good for your health. Well, at least your mental health. You see, one of my biggest fears in life is failure. Why? Because I’m not good at it admitting I’ve messed up, and I’m even worse at letting myself off the hook for doing so. (How dare I not meet my unreachable standards?) That’s why falling is good. It is a microcosmic failure, and it shows me that failure is not the end.
In a small epiphany tonight, I realized that the moments when I’ve felt the freest in my life were the moments when I was falling – repeatedly. When my hands slipped of a rock face, when my skis refused to stay parallel, when the river current flipped my canoe like I was nothing. Ironically, the more I repeated a fall, the more confident and free I became.
Not long ago, I accepted the invitation from a friend to go on a “hill” bike ride in Pittsburgh. Now this was no ordinary route. My riding buddy casually noted that it would include the steepest street in the country, but that I shouldn’t worry because he had made it after the second (or third?) try. Knowing that his biking skill and strength far exceeds mine, I thought, “Great, just what I need to boost my ego today – failure.” Honestly, I didn’t want to even try because I was afraid I wouldn’t make it. The street is 35% (or 37%) grade and cobblestone! Fortunately it’s not long. Take a look:
The first time I tried, I looked like the guy in yellow:
The second time I tried, I looked the same way. But I was gaining this strange determination, and my fear was gone. I had already failed and I hadn’t gotten hurt, so what was there to lose? I knew that it was only a matter of tries before I combined all the right elements at the precisely needed moments, and voila! Try number 3 was it.
As adrenaline raced through my body from the success (but more so from the insanely scary ride down), I began to think about my reaction to the hill in light of my brooding over failure this past year. I confess that returning from Uganda earlier than planned last time felt like a failure. For most of this past year I wanted to forget about it. I dreaded the thought of facing the “hill” again. But so what? Maybe that was “fall” number one. Am I still alive? Yes. Am I hurt? Not really. What is so horrific about trying again?
So in all my falling I’ve found that it’s actually kind of fun to be caught by a climbing harness and rope, that executing a “controlled” skiing wipe out is a useful skill, and that swimming a rapid is actually not so frightening after all. Perhaps bigger “failures” in life might be similar?