Why Failing Doesn’t Mean Failed

Failing to failed.

There is a lot of ground to cover and different paths to take from the first word to the second.

It may seem like I‘m arguing semantics, but a change in the tense of a word has meaning. Stopping to stopped. Loving to loved. Eating to ate. Why should failure be any different?

Being in the process of failing doesn’t mean full-stop failed. It means that there is an opportunity for learning and success. Sure, if nothing changes, apathy sets in, situations spin out of control, and then it can be a straight shot from failing to failed.

While I was in boot camp for the Army, we had to take two PT (Physical Training) tests. The test is broken up into three events, push-ups, sit-ups, 2 mile run. The minimum goal for my age group at the time was: 35 Push-ups in 2 minutes, 47 sit-ups in 2 minutes, and a total 2 mile run time of 16:36.

I entered boot camp carrying about 30 pounds of additional fun around my midsection. I almost never ran, and sit-ups were akin to a torture tactic. The first PT test came and quite a few of us, me included, didn’t meet our goals for one or more of the events. And even though this test counted, it was viewed more as a baseline. Our results were slightly discouraging, but not out of the ordinary. This experience was new, and we weren’t at our peak (or even midline) physical condition yet.

The second PT test came after the unit had been training for a few weeks, running up and down hills, doing inchworms (another torture exercise), halfway down and hold ‘em push-ups (torture—I assume you see a theme forming), along with various other exercises. I was in better shape than I had ever been, and I was prepared to breeze through the event.

I didn’t pass the test.

At this point, my discouragement crossed into very real worry and anxiety. However, what they didn’t tell us beforehand (probably for the best) was that we had the opportunity for a make-up test. We would have one last chance to pass the PT test or get sent back to the very beginning of boot camp and do it all over again.

The choices, for those of us who needed to pass, were: give up completely and fall out of boot camp, not try any harder and see what happens, or do everything within our power to reach our goal of passing the test. If I am completely honest, the first option never crossed my mind. The second, however, was a very real temptation. I was homesick, physically and mentally exhausted, and just didn’t feel like I could give any more than I was already giving.

A few of us got together and talked. We spoke about why we joined, how far we had come, what we wanted to do once we graduated boot camp. It was a refocusing of each of our visions. We realized we still had an opportunity. That even though we hadn’t met certain milestones and goals, there remained, within our power, the ability to succeed.

We started running longer than the other groups. We did pushups until we couldn't even tie our boots because our arms shook so bad. Had sit-up competitions in our barracks. And Instead of just eating whatever we could because we were hungry we picked foods that provided the right amount of protein, carbs, and nutrients that would help our bodies recover. We knew that we could help support each other when one of us lost hope.

We were intentional during our failing.

The make-up test day came. It was only our small group of people who hadn’t reached their goal who were on the field that morning. We pushed, yelled, clapped, screamed, and hustled for the entirety of the test. During the 2-mile run portion, I ran the whole last lap while simultaneously throwing up.

We all passed. Every. Single. Person.

Our failing help lead us into figuring out what we needed to change and fix to get better.

If you do failing properly, you can chart the path from when a goal wasn’t met to where it started pushing you into succeeding.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Wintson Churchill

If you learn from it, then you didn’t fail at it. Take the opportunity for course correction. You may not have achieved a specific goal or milestone, but that doesn’t mean you failed completely; it means you should look at what went wrong and pivot. Failing to failed usually the decision to stop trying.

Refocus yourself and find out what you can to move from failing to succeeding. Learn to be intentional in your failing.