Failure is Fertilizer
Written by Nichole DeHart
“Failure is fertilizer” – I thought about this for a long time. Denis Waitley spoke those words at our recent athletes training camp. Failure is fertilizer. These words really stuck with me. At first, I automatically chalked the adage up to a reality that I was already aware of; ‘yes, yes, you learn from failing, etc etc.’ But, long after Dr. Waitley spoke, I couldn’t shake the phrase. What was about this particular saying that had me so enraptured?
Well, fertilizer can play an important role in replenishing soil of depleted nutrients. Organic fertilizers (like chicken manure) have been known to improve soil life and the productivity of soil, even improving plants absorption of essential nutrients. Fertilizer can be very important to a plant’s overall success and growth. Similarly, our own failure can be used as fertilizer. Failure plays just as important of a role in our own development as fertilizer plays a crucial role in a plant’s developement. Failure is essential to one’s growth and ultimately, success in whatever endeavor they pursued. This, of course, is only true of those who take failure for what it is, an opportunity to flourish. Denis Waitley also brought out another point when he said “winners focus on the rewards, losers focus on the penalties.” How do you view a perceived failure? Negatively, like a penalty given for playing the game of chance, or with optimism?
I started applying this mentality in the gym. Not in some feel good, have a smile on your face at all times way, but in my own mindset with how I approach my training and my clients. The first thing I immediately changed with this new perspective was to take risks. I tend to be conservative in my workouts. I will hold back the slightest bit because I am worried about my energy reserves for the remainder of the workout. However, after deciding to take more risks (also encouraged by my coach), I have reaped many benefits. Instead of pacing myself in a workout, I will push myself harder than ever. Instead of approaching the workout with doubt in my abilities, worried about what might happen if I don’t make a new personal record, I approach the training session with the view of taking away a new lesson on how to listen to my body, push myself to break through that wall and how to hold on for one more rep. Missing a lift isn’t so terrrifying now, it is just another opportunity to improve on my movement pattern. Coming off the bar during pull-ups doesn’t mean that I am a failure, it just means that I will take more opportunities to work on cycling my pull-up rhythm. The crazy thing is, this approach has actually worked! Not only have I improved my performance, but my attitude for training has been reinvigorated!
I recently read a Chinese proverb that has continued to fuel my approach of taking risks. It states, “Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” This evokes the same sentiments as losers focusing only on penalties. If this is your mindset then yes, any risk will seem too daunting to take on because the penalties will be too great. On the flip side, growth will always be elusive because you have robbed yourself of a chance to evolve. Instead, be like Thomas Edison who said the following after he had an estimated 10,000 failed attempts at creating the lightbulb: “I have not failed. I’ve simply discovered ten thousand ways that don’t work.” How many opportunities do you think you would have if you adopted this motto?
It is this mindset that distinguishes elite athletes from others; their approach to their own shortcomings. No elite athlete has arrived at their peak without taking risks and facing failure. It is what they have done with their failures that has produced their success.