Failure is an Option....

31st Dec 2015


"I'm not afraid of storms, for with them, I'm learning how to sail my ship." Louisa May Alcott

When Albert Einstein was at school one of his teachers is famously quoted as saying 'he will never amount to much'.  Similar rejections include Steve Jobs who was fired from Apple when he was 30, Decca records who rejected the Beatles because they 'didn't like their sound', Oprah Winfrey who was shown the door as a news anchor and told 'she wasn't fit for television' and Walt Disney who was sacked as a journalist and told he 'lacked imagination'.  

History is littered with people who, despite initial failures, went on to achieve extraordinary things.  What if, when given those shattering rejections, they had chosen instead to scuttle away to lead a life in the shadows.  An alternative view is that such amazingly successful people maybe had their ambition turbo boosted by the negative comments. Is it possible they would have been less successful without some experience of rejection?  It’s impossible to know without speaking to them, and yet highly likely.

Of course it all boils down to how we accept failure.  Some Peak Mountaineers do 'fail' on their objectives with us and their responses vary wildly.  For some it is simply accepted as part of the overall adventure while others struggle to come to terms with the outcome and become, albeit hopefully just temporarily, tortured by it.  Some of those do return to us at some point to complete their 'unfinished business' whereas there are others we never hear from again.  

Failure is sometimes out of anyone's control and, of course, this may make it easier to cope with.  The weather closes down that summit bid, a landslide prevents the mountain being reached or rain starts to fall while gearing up at the bottom of that long sought after rock climb.  It may be out of our hands.  

Not succeeding as a result of ones own shortcomings is much more difficult.  The person may feel, for example, that they should have been fitter or had the 'bottle' to continue.  Maybe they should have got up earlier or packed less equipment.

For those with the right mindset, like the examples at the top, failure may simply become a stepping stone to ultimate success and then, maybe, that final achievement becomes even sweeter.  Of course, to find where that line between success and failure lies we often have to be operating at the boundary of our ability.  If the challenge is so within our capabilities then success may be guaranteed but this may, while still providing some pleasure, be far less satisfying than an outcome with less certainty.  

If this principle is applied to some sporting activities then, although the person may be disappointed by the outcome, the risk may still be low.  If the target was to run a sub 4 hour marathon and the runner fails it may be a case of retraining for the next year but their life isn't in danger.  Of course, in vertical adventures the stakes are usually much higher.  When the potential first ascentionists set off up the North Face of the Eiger, they were playing the ultimate game with an uncertain  outcome and the chance of rescue almost non existent.  Similarly, no one was going to pluck Ueli Steck from the South Face of Annapurna if things went wrong?

Sometimes, of course, succeeding is difficult to deal with too.  If a project has engrossed a person and become their sole focus for a long time, it is hard to know where to go after it is accomplished.  Steve House openly admitted to battling some serious personal demons when he finally climbed the incredible Rupal Face on Nanga Parbat.  The route had engrossed him for years and he struggled to see how he could ever top the achievement.

But, providing the point when success is achieved doesn't become a negative, then having a goal can be a valuable way to provide focus and some of the best goals are those that require a long and stepped journey.  Then, although within that journey there may also be failures, all the steps still lead towards a certain goal.  Last year we had a winter course participant whose ultimate goal is to ascend Everest.  At that point he had no high altitude experience and few of the technical skills or fitness he would ultimately require.  However, he was aware of this and so he had charted out a manageable time line of goals along the way to his final destination.  

The basic winter skills course was just one step on this journey and next would be a climbing course, continually developing fitness training, a moderate altitude peak and so on.  All progressing towards one aim and yet each one a satisfying sub goal.  Even better, when I chatted to him about the plan he said that, although his aim was certainly to summit Everest, he saw every step on the journey as an enjoyable and fulfilling part of the adventure too.  This meant, he felt, that if he never ended up standing on the highest point on earth then the journey would still fulfil him.  I hope he ultimately succeeds, but I admire his attitude too.  

And so, maybe if you aren't a goal setter this may be a good way to focus your adventures for the coming year (or more)?  A rock climb a few grades above your current level that you can work towards or a peak you want to eventually ascend.  Maybe there's a long distance path you would like to walk or a skill you want to master. There may be setbacks along the way and you may need to periodically refocus, but if you see those setbacks as drivers towards your ultimate goal then they may not be setbacks at all.

Of course, new year is typically the time for making resolutions and this could be the perfect time to  chart out that route to your objective too.  You may be sailing a solitary ship or if we can offer any support on your journey then of course we'd really love to be involved.  Either way, our very best wishes to you for a successful and happy goal oriented new year......and we look forward to seeing you in the mountains (or we'll enjoy reading about your success in the outdoor press!). 

Posted by Paul             

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