How to fail and win


Do you give yourself permission to fail?

If you don’t, you may be missing out on your best winning strategy.

In one of my monthly webinars, Ayla Wilk, a Mind Body Paddle Community member reminded the group of this powerful acronym: FAIL: First Attempt In Learning.

Failing is part of life, how you view and respond to failure determines your outcome.

A defining failure in my paddling

In 1996 I was a new, young and very passionate paddler. I worked as a raft guide in WV so I could kayak as much as possible on the New River Gorge and Upper Gauley. Feeling ready, and a bit cocky, I registered for an American Canoe Association whitewater kayak instructor certification course. At the time there were 3 levels of certification you could achieve – flatwater, moving water and whitewater.

What I lacked in experience I was sure I would more than make up for with my badass Class IV paddling skill. When the Instructor Trainer challenged the class to make precise moves with demonstration quality technique, I realized that my badass skill wasn’t so badass 🙂 It was a frustrating and painful experience to be awarded the lowest level of certification at the end of the course.

Instead of feeling disempowered though, I felt lit up. From that moment on every flat pool was an opportunity to develop stroke technique, and every micro eddy a chance to become more precise in my maneuvers. A few years later I started competing in freestyle, made the Canadian Freestyle Team and eventually medaled at a World Freestyle Championships.

Now that I’m an ACA Instructor Trainer, I tell this story to my Instructor Candidates to help them see that an undesirable outcome can actually be a winning strategy for the long run. Failing at getting the top certification level in that first course certainly didn’t stop me from having a successful career in whitewater.

Give yourself permission to fail

There’s a big difference between failing and being a failure. When you conflate the two, you give too much significance and power to the failure. If you equate your failures with your self-worth you may be less likely to go for your goals for fear of looking bad.

When you’re afraid of looking bad you stop taking action unless you know you’ll succeed and that means you stay in your comfort zone and stop learning. It’s really hard to reach goals when you’re stuck and afraid.

What if you gave yourself permission to fail, and when you did fail you didn’t make it such a big deal? You could recognize that it’s your First (or second, third..) Attempt In Learning and let that empower you.

How many of us had to spend hours working on our rolls before we gained confidence and consistency? What if we gave up kayaking at the first or second roll attempt? Rolling, missing rolls is part of the sport, and so is swimming, and yet, I hear paddlers (including myself) berate themselves for having to roll or for swimming or missing a line. And then that becomes the only focus and the rest of the joys and successes of the day are forgotten.

Wouldn’t be a whole lot more joyful and confidence building to treat your failures like an obstacle on the river? Acknowledge it, be with the feelings of disappointment, learn from it AND keep looking where you want to go.

If you want to be more successful in reaching your goals long term try changing your context for failure and giving yourself permission to fail. It may just lead to your biggest win!

Accountability and Coaching

When I was competing in freestyle kayaking, I did make the mistake of equating my competition performance with my self-worth. When I did well I was stoked, and when I didn’t I was a mess. It was a crazy roller coaster of emotion to be riding. At the time I didn’t have a coach – someone to help me put my performance and results into perspective. Without someone in my corner I found it difficult to cultivate the confidence to match my skill and consistently perform to my potential.

That’s my I do what I do today through Mind Body Paddle. I’m here to help you develop an empowering context for life and for paddling so that you can cultivate courage and confidence. If you’re ready to have someone in your corner join me in Asheville for Find Your Flow Week, or on the Ottawa for my Playboating Week.