I am very fortunate to be a school principal and thankful for my successes along the way to place me in my current professional position. I am also thankful for my failures. And, man, have I failed?!
In high school I played basketball, or should I say I was on the basketball team. I mostly sat by the water cooler cheering than playing exactly. I remember one practice hustling back to the court from a trip to the drinking fountain. I was alone on the court as the coaches planned the next drill seated on the bench. I grabbed a ball and started shooting half-court shots waiting for my pals to return from their water breaks. After my second half-court shot, the coach yelled out to me, “Gats, knock it off.” (Gats is my maiden name and my entire name from ages 13-21. Anyway…) “Gats, knock it off. Are you going to shoot that shot in a game?” I replied, “I don’t know coach, I never get in the games!” My coach just busted up laughing and allowed me to carry on.
I rode a lot of pine in softball too. When people would ask me my position during family outings, before I could announce that I was a catcher, my dad would beat me to answering and say, “she plays left-out.” (For those of you not familiar…this is NOT a position but rather a play on words as it sound like an outfield spot. Thanks Dad.)
Senior year of high school, I applied for the University of Illinois for my bachelor’s and was denied admission. After earning my bachelor’s at WMU, I applied to Syracuse, Northwestern, and ASU’s Walter Cronkite schools for a journalism master’s program and was denied admission into all three. I remember one application asked the applicant to list all publications to-date. That was a short list of none for me. I guess that was a prerequisite, you know to have written something in efforts of obtaining a writing degree. Hence, I became a teacher.
I ran the Pat Tillman 4.2 mile run the year after my oldest child, Carter, was born. Reaching the Arizona State football stadium marking the conclusion of the race, I was moving at an excruciatingly slow pace. I am sure fresh legs were walking faster than my slow run which was all I could muster. ASU football players and cheerleaders were required to greet and cheer finishers, but by the time I made it through this tunnel, the attention from these college athletes had long left their post and they were now creating their after race party plans while unenthusiastically clapping. I don’t blame them. To stand there and cheer for the early finisher, the elite athletes, was fun an exciting, but almost an hour later, they were sick of cheering as I would have been too. I embarrassingly passed the finish line and to your surprise, I had not been the winner of that race. I finished, but with less than a stellar outcome as marked by the lazy celebration. (And as a funny joke, they had the Gatorade and bananas in the mezzanine which meant racers must walk up stadium stairs to reach the post-race nutritious refueling stations. I think I skipped the snacks and just limped out of the first floor to my car.)
My most noteworthy failure came my senior year in high school while on the golf team.
My grandparents had generously gifted me a set of my own clubs in the 8th grade. During my sophomore year, I figured I was ready to learn more and grow in the sport and so I joined the high school team. Because golf was a no-cut sport, I simply was required to show up and attend the practices held during the other sport’s “try-out” week in the fall and I was on the team. In golf for high school, only a few golfers are allowed to have their scores count during a competition. A school with more members than those whose scores count, allow the extra golfer to play anyway behind the competitors as a form of practice. This was me. I was allowed to be in uniform and attend competitions, but my success or failure was never officially recorded. Now, I’m not a horrible golfer. I know how to chip and I have won longest drive competitions in scrambles, but I am also not good.
The golf coach was every student’s favorite teacher, Mr. Geppinger. He taught sociology and had a great rapport with students. This was my senior year after having played on the team for my sophomore and junior years. I remember standing on the putting green of Arrowhead Club practicing my putts with some teammates during the “tryout” period. Again, golf was a no-cut sport, so there were no tests or drills and no list posted to the locker room door saying if you were in or if you were out. Everyone who was interested in golf was automatically allowed to participate.
I remember it was a beautiful late summer day. The sun was out. The grass was green. And that’s when it happened. Mr. Geppinger walked from the driving range over to the putting green where I practiced. With his hand placed on my shoulder and his eyes focused on mine, he said kindly, “Gats, maybe you should just stick to softball.”
There you have it. I was cut from a no-cut sport.
Talk about failure! I might be the only person that this has occurred to in the world. I remember grabbing my golf bag with my head hanging in sadness and disappointment and walking off the course into the parking lot and home.
I have failed often. Softball is full of failure. A baseball/softball player is a success if he/she is successful only 4 times out of ten. Tell me in what other arena, athletic or academic where 60% failure rate is celebrated? I think this is from where my confidence in failure was derived.
I have also failed upholding goals I have set for myself including New Year’s Resolutions. I run January 1st and then again on the 2nd and 3rd…but on the 4th, I am too tired and before you know it the day is done. And there it is, a failure. I throw up my hands in defeat and think of how horrible of a person I am to not even make it a week through my pursuit of my goals. I then do not run on the 5th or the 6th or again until January 1st of the next year.
Why do we let one failure cause so much grief? Why do we give so much power to one moment? One mistake? One loss? One denial? One error? One rejection? In order to then deny ourselves so much opportunity for success on just the very next day?
This year, this is my mindset: allow failure to occur as the wind blows. I don’t mean that I welcome it or that I will lazily bow out of my resolutions. But I mean that failure is normal and is a part of life. Some say that failure drives success. So, instead of allowing failure to have power in causing defeat, instead think of it as coming and going just the breeze against my cheek allowing success to arrive the very next day. Thomas Edison was known to having said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
I’ve always been driven by quotes. Winston Churchill’s words often resonate with me although he does not lead me into war I am reminded to, “Never give in.” And although I’ve never battled on the gridiron, Vince Lombardi’s words that “Once you’ve learned to quit, it become a habit.” All these words of wisdom from legends before me give me a boost of confidence today to reach my own personal goals.
Connecting to the greater reason why the goals are even goals will support adherence to them as well. Do I want to exercise every day for vanity, really? No, I want to live a long healthy life. I want to grow old to see my children’s children. I prefer not to be ill and I know exercise can make my immune system stronger to fight off germs that linger in elementary schools.
Do I want to meditate for selfish reasons? No, it is a great bonus, but I want to be a better boss, friend, mother and wife. I want to more often be a person others want to be around. I want to remain calm under stress in a professional setting and not bring big emotions and personalization into the workplace. And I want my own children to emulate my kindness, not my stress.
This year reduce the power of failures. They are just part of our journey. They carry no authority. Allow the rise of the sun and rising from your bed to drive your success as each day is a new day to do anything, except for being cut from a no-cut sport…that one is just for me.