Satchel Living: Why 'failure' is not a swear word

Satchel Living: Why 'failure' is not a swear word

Success doesn't always have a happy ending.
In a culture that recoils from failure as if it's a disease, Ian Thorpe's words in the face of his disappointment at not having qualified for the 2012 London Olympics are priceless for kids young and old.

"You can have tremendous success and not be enjoying something and I have had bitter disappointment here and I still am enjoying what I'm doing again," he said. "I guess the light at the end of the tunnel for this week is realising that even though those results weren't what I wanted, I am enjoying this and it's why I will continue to push through." 

Isn't that fantastic? 

For a preeminent sportsperson such as Thorpe to display humility and hope after such a challenging week and ultimately defeat in the pool is a big lesson for a world that thrives on instant gratification, quick fixes and the thrill of temporary feats.  

The sense that you can enjoy doing something even if it's not paying immediate dividends (insofar as "winning" is concerned) is also a revelation: how much time and energy do we waste lamenting where we are not instead of celebrating how far we have come and what joys, possibilities and challenges each new day brings?

Just think of Bob Carr, retired from state politics in 2005, sitting on the sidelines composing commentary and book, film opera and theatre reviews for his Thoughtlines blog, travelling the globe and publishing books (My Reading Life) all the while the machinations of the political world kept churning on without him on the centre stage. Now he is like an excited puppy who has been let out of the box, but it looked like he was enjoying himself immensely all the while. 

Many will say, "But they both jumped the queue!", to which I say, "Life deals some people opportunities we simply will not get, but should we begrudge those who get them? I hope not." Begrudging someone else good things makes you rot. 

What's more, the ups and downs of life in the public eye, as we've seen with poor Jason Russell of Invisible Children, can be a burden as well as a blessing. It seems to me that some people are meant to be very public with their triumphs and tragedies and in-betweens in order to teach us all something. 

Peter of the Bible did just that – he let Jesus down in the most shameful way, but then he became one of the Gospel's key proponents, bringing it to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. His ministry was a Gospel for all people and he showed us all that even if you fall into disrepute, especially in the eyes of the world, that genuine repentance, faith, love and belief can bring about your redemption.

It would take a great deal of humility, or a great deal of belief in your particular calling in life, to bow out and agree to partake in life outside the limelight rather than to wrestle your way to victory or rejoin the race. After tasting the sweetness of victory, last year's MasterChef winner, Kate Bracks, said no to celebrity and yes to home and family and opening a B&B in her hometown, Orange. 

I did think at the time, "That's a shame because she is so much fun." But I could understand her reluctance to throw her cook's hat into the entertainment pond (which is murky and full of uncertainties, rather like the Loch Ness) and concentrate her motherly efforts at home with the kids. She liked her old life before the show just fine. 

Even fellow MasterChef winner Adam Liaw, a lawyer, said, "That’s one thing Julie [Goodwin], Kate and I all have in common. None of us hated our old life. There’s the cliché ‘I hate my life and I need to do something new,’ so you go on MasterChef, but we were happy with our lives. I wouldn’t look at going back to my legal career as failing in any way."

Perhaps Thorpie will do the same (not open a B&B, but opt to return to the quiet life)? After being questioned over his decision to turn down lucrative sporting contracts to study at university (a double degree in linguistics and psychology at Macquarie University), nurture his Fountain For Youth Charity and work on commercial interests, before getting back in the pool, he declared he wanted to live a "happy and simple life". 

Obviously he changed his mind. And, really, that's okay, isn't it? Sometimes, no matter how embarrassing or challenging, we have to pull through because there is a cause, a purpose, that is a little bit greater than ourselves, no matter how much we want to run and hide under the doona (or duvet, if you like)?

For Bracks' part, she is working on a desserts book and has said, "The [MasterChef] experience has made me more passionate about food. It’s made me aware that I can do more than I think I can. You can get a bit lazy, because you think, oh well, life’s just plodding along. Going on MasterChef pushed me way outside my comfort zone."

In a world that appears to be imploding, you wouldn't blame someone for staying in their comfort zone: it took Noah a great deal of gumption and courage, I'm sure (as well as a direct line to God) to gather himself to build the ark – and all the while people would have been saying, "You crazy!".

But, hello!, life wasn't meant to be easy! And nothing – nothing – of true value comes cheaply, with little to no effort at all. What you learn in your off-field time, or in the midst of failure or hardship or testing of your capabilities to the nth degree, might be the most important lesson of all: these lessons are the building blocks that make a life whole and a person a whole person.

Thorpie wasn't the only sportsman to reflect on failure this past weekend. Racing superstar Michael Schumacher had to retire from the 2012 Australian Grand Prix after losing drive and veering off the track under pressure from Sebastian Vettel.

"I believe I could have had a good race this afternoon, and I can still take some positives out of the weekend as we have seen our car was confirming our feelings, and is definitely a clear step forward," he said. "We can now build on that and start improving further." 

In life, you win some and you lose some; that's just how it rolls. And sometimes losing will feel like the whole sodden world is against you; that everything you do, say or try leads to you fall flat on your face. "Oh, bbbbbbother," Winnie the Pooh would say. But then he'd get together with his friends, scoop up some honey and lick his wounds before venturing out into the Hundred Acre Wood again.

"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm," said the statesman Winston Churchill. And he should know. He failed the sixth grade, spent the 1930s in the political wilderness and went on to not only lead Great Britain through World War II to victory, but also become the only British prime minister to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The important thing? Not to let the losing get you down for too long – to keep on keeping on; to have faith and hold onto hope and trudge along the hard path even though opting out and taking the easier road would appear to be the safer, slippers-and-hot-chocolate option (it is also okay to feel defeated and depleted and cosy up with chocolate).

Sometimes we fall flat on our faces because we are busy trying to achieve the wrong thing; sometimes it's so we don't get too proud of ourselves; sometimes it's so we don't trip others up in our endeavours; sometimes it's just to make us stronger in the long run; sometimes it's to draw us closer to God...  so that we might one day feel worthy and capable of walking on water even if our hand isn't being held.

So, thank you, Thorpie, for donning the togs, braving the pool and the press, and reminding us all that failure is only as bad as how you choose to look at it and that success isn't necessarily needed for enjoyment.

See also:
Life after MasterChef for Julie Goodwin, Adam Liaw and Kate Bracks @ The Daily Telegraph
And JK Rowling on the fringe benefits of failure c/o TED...

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.
Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, erica. Agree wholeheartedly with all of what you've said. And i love that JK Rowling speech!