I Encourage You To Fail

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I’m going to fill you in on a little TG trivia from back in the day. And it’s something I’m not too proud of.

I failed my driver’s license exam…twice.

Yeah, yeah…..ha, ha, ha. Laugh it up.

I deserve it.

I didn’t get my license until I was 18. Which, in hindsight, wasn’t the end of the world because there wasn’t much to do in my hometown in the first place, in good ol’ Groton, NY. Driving down Main St. took all of about 30 seconds, and outside of the local bowling alley the “hang out” spots were the parking lot of the local Sunoco station or any number of various corn fields.

There’s that, and I was pretty much a tool of teenager anyways. My idea of fun was staying at home lifting weights, thumbing through my baseball card collection, or watching 90210.

Chicks loved me.

And it’s not like I was in any hurry to be seen driving around in my parent’s car. Because nothing says “sexy mofo” than a 1992 Chevy minivan. With wood paneling on the side. Holla!

But yeah, I failed my driver’s exam twice. The first time was because, after successfully parallel parking the car (which was/is every teenager’s Mt. Everest), I was then asked to perform a 3-point turn. I put the car in reverse, and then kept it in reverse…and nailed the curb.

Oops. Mulligan?

I don’t even remember what happened the second time. I think it had something to do with failing to use the blinker, following the speed limit, not hitting pedestrians, whatevs.

The third time was the charm, though. I passed with flying colors, and no civil lawsuits were filed.

I’ll tell you what: I prepped my ass off for that third test. I was determined to pass, and I made it my mission to bug my mom every chance I got to let me drive to the store with her. I’d pop in my Tribe Called Quest cassette tape, and off my mom and I went…in the minivan. Like two bosses.

I practiced my parallel parking, made sure my 3-point turns didn’t involve any roadside curbs, and kept my hands on the steering wheel at ten and two o’clock at all times.

I used my past failures as a woefully inept driver to get better and to help prepare myself for future success.

And not to brag or anything, fast forward 20 years later, I can say I’ve never been issued a major traffic ticket (parking tickets don’t count, especially when you live in a large city) or have been in any major accidents1

Moreover, my wife – Lisa – and I survived driving in Australia back in March where everything is ass-backwards.

So What Does Any Of This Have To Do With Anything?

A lot, actually.

Not long ago I read a fantastic book titled The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.

In it, the author, Megan McArdle, discusses why we shouldn’t fear failure or think of it as our enemy. More specifically she describes the concept of “normalcy bias,” which explains why so many people freeze when confronted with a crisis or why once successful companies like General Motors find it so hard to get out of their own way and learn from past mistakes.

Failing, in her opinion, and I agree, is the only way to get better.

Leaving alone the current debate over youth athletics and the “no one gets cut from a team, and everyone gets a trophy” mentality (which is grossly absurd, and a discussion for another time), people often forget that failing is what often builds resiliency.

If everyone wins all the time, or never faces adversity, or always gets the girl…how does that help better prepare him or her to change their ways, adapt, or grow?

It’s doesn’t. It leads to stagnancy, narrow-mindedness, and an inability to not stop sucking.

And that’s unfortunate, because there’s a lot everyone can learn from failing, and learning to fail well. Better yet: there’s a lot everyone can learn from understanding that failing is normal. It’s going to happen. How you interpret and handle it is going to be what helps separate you from the masses.

Take the fitness industry for example.

I can go back and look at programs I’ve written five years ago and chuckle. Actually, cringe. They’re that bad.

I can remember a time when we used the Sleeper Stretch on every baseball player that walked into our facility. We’d test them for GIRD (Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit), and if we saw they presented with it (generally: a lack of internal rotation range of motion), we’d have the athlete implement more Sleeper Stretches into their arm-care routines.

Fast forward a year or two later and we soon came to realize that GIRD was, holy shit balls, a normal adaptation of the throwing shoulder! It’s when there’s a lack of IR in conjunction with a lack of TOTAL ROM where more of a red flag exists.

All those Sleeper Stretches we’d been programming were probably making the issue(s) worse, not better.

We learned from our “failure,” and subsequently overhauled or approach to not only assessing the throwing shoulder, but how we went about programming for our overhead athletes in general.

And this speaks to writing training programs as a whole. I don’t think I’ve ever written a “perfect” program.

I’ll assess someone both statically and dynamically (watching your clients MOVE will give a gulf of information), ask all the relevant questions with regards to training history, injury history, favorite Mutant Ninja Turtle, and then write a program I feel will be the most efficient, effective, and safest way to get them from Point A (sucky) to Point B (less sucky).

Almost always I’ll have to re-arrange stuff, cross things out, or scratch certain drills or exercises from their program altogether. Sometimes stuff works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Basically, I fail all the time.

But I use those failures to “correct my wrongs,” to learn, to get better, and to hopefully not make those mistakes again down the road.

So, what about you?  How “well” do you fail?

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. I just jinxed myself. I know it.

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