How to Fail Right

Posted: January 7, 2018 by Heather Hennessy

Most of us, when we think about chasing our dreams, are overwhelmed with the fear of failure.  We often equate failure with disappointment, devastation, or even depression.  We assume that if we fail, others will view us negatively, and we might lose our motivation in work or in life.  Because of these beliefs, many of us, stifled by fear, never take the first step toward our dreams.  But have you ever considered the possibility that failure—if it happens—could ultimately lead you to savor fruits you might not otherwise have tasted?  That possibility became a reality for me sixteen years ago, after a near-fatal accident stopped me in my tracks.  But I did not stop forever.  Instead, I explored the lessons that failure taught me, took inventory of my remaining strengths, and carved out a new path for my future.

From the time when I was old enough to dribble a basketball, I had my sights set on a career in sports.  In middle school, I excelled in both basketball and track, and even beat some of the boys.  I worked hard to outdo my competition; more than that, though, I vowed to surpass my own personal best in every contest.  By the summer of 2000, at age 17, I had become the number one female 800-meter runner in my age group, dreaming of a full athletic scholarship and a spot on the 2004 Olympic women’s track team.  I knew that my rigorous training regimen and diehard determination had catapulted me to the top.  But what I did not know, at that time, was how quickly a dream can come crashing down, sometimes leaving a person literally shattered.

It happened in Lake Tahoe on a hot August afternoon.  I was training with my high school cross-country team, running nine miles up the mountains.  When we reached the summit, with our skin warm and sticky under the bright summer sun, my teammates, one by one, began leaping into the lake, fifty feet below.  They said it was a Los Gatos Wildcats tradition, but, tradition or not, I was terrified.  When I hesitated, the team egged me on, so, against my better judgment, I closed my eyes and jumped.

When I hit the water, a crushing, cracking sensation shot up my back.  My entire body went numb and I sank below the surface.  I thought I was dying, or at the very least, paralyzed.  The assistant coach pulled me out of the water, and I was rushed to the local hospital.  That’s where I learned that my spine had suffered compression fractures from the impact on the water.   

Luckily, I regained the feeling throughout my body.  But that day, I went from being the top competitor in my favorite track event to being bedridden indefinitely, unsure if I would ever run, let alone walk, again.  

The months passed, and, as my spine began to heal, I entered physical therapy.  Running seemed impossible, but I gradually returned to the track.  I finished high school and by some miracle, was offered a track scholarship at USC.  The next two years were a battle as I tried—but failed—to reclaim my physical strength.  Finally, I decided to stop running and seek out a new dream in broadcast journalism; eventually, I also became a published writer and established a charitable organization.

At first, surrendering my childhood dream looked a lot like giving up, but I soon realized that I was giving in to something far greater than me.  I learned three priceless lessons from my accident:

  1. To listen to my intuition: one of our greatest unseen gifts.
  2. To find strength in resilience: to have the courage to step away from a Plan A that is not working, and make a Plan B that is in alignment with my core beliefs.
  3. To value my spirit: to remember that we are worth much more than the physical body with which we habitually identify.  

If we “fail right,” failure can provide an opportunity for us to reinvent ourselves.  Reinvention gives us the sweet freedom to discover our inner strengths, our values, and the ultimate goals that fulfill us from the inside out—not the other way around.  Now, I use my self-reinvention as an opportunity to inspire others, so they might follow their dreams and foster resilience when they encounter any setbacks or adversity.  

Thank you for following my blog.  I hope you will visit my website to read future posts, and learn to embrace your unique, authentic self in the process.  

Wishing you peace and love,

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