The Lovely Beauty of Failure

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“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games.  On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

                        – Michael Jordan

It’s all so damn beautiful. Failure. Mistakes. Biking. Writing. My life. It’s all so Goddamn beautiful, even though it’s full of mistake after mistake.

I’m thirty-one years old. I’m not a mother. I’m not a wife. I’m not any of it. I don’t have a book published. I’m not you or you or you. I am here, trying, working, thinking, cycling, running, playing, wondering. I am.

Two weeks ago at Nickel City training it was only ashes inside of me. It was coals simmering. It was black and grey burning there in my stomach, whispering in its smoldering breath, “You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.” Inside I’m burnt up; I’m spent. That fire is extinguished and I’ve gone out with it. I can’t get my head into this space: the winning space. The space where you know you can go fast.

“I’ve got one match to light,” says my teammate. She’s racing against a man who has joined us for our training. “You’ve got about three, but I’ve got one.” She tells him as they are racing, drafting off one another for a couple minutes, taking turns. She thinks he’s pulling her along more than she’s helping him, but from where I am, she looks like she’s keeping up pretty damn well.

Me on the other hand: I’m lost. I’m a mile behind and the space is growing. Usually I can keep up. Usually I’m in it. Today, this morning, I’m not. My legs are slow. My breath is weak. I’m tired. I’m flat out tired. I’m pushing my legs and I’m angry with them: why aren’t you stronger? Move! Sprint! Succeed!

My teammate has .2 miles to go and she storms it. She lights that match and she’s off. She’s through the finish line and she’s won against this man, who’s a good sport, who’s a good cyclist, who seems like an overall really good guy. She’s won though and she’s smiling ear to ear: out of breath.

I have to stay on my bike longer than everyone else. They’re off, but I’m still trekking along. This is the part that sucks. This is the red in the face embarrassment that comes with failure. However, I remind myself: I am not these women. Not yet anyway. These women run half marathons and full marathons, Ironmans. The most I’ve done is 5ks. That’s it and I’ve never even timed myself at this. Actually at one 5k I thought I was going to cough up blood. That was a cool experience.

But then I remember the chrysalis of myself. I remember what my bike mentor told me in the café, “compare yourself to who you were not who you want to be.” I remember when I was tired all the time, when I was sort of depressed, when I barely made it to spin class. Now, I am in a nascent state. I am in the learning state. I am in the failing state. I will fail and I will fail and I will fail until I don’t fail.

But really this day, this Monday, I have won something at this bike training session. A lovely kind of friendship—the kind you only find in teams. It’s not about making competition cruel and ragged. It’s about the art of the sport: being friends with those you are racing against. It’s about the community of competition. It’s about the next day and the message on Facebook that is from my teammate. She says, “I’ve been there. I’ve struggled. It’s about the journey.” I noticed yesterday that she stayed on the bike next to me and pedaled along: her feet out of her shoes, her socks resting on the tops of her shoes. She’s riding there right along with me even though she doesn’t have to—she’s been done for ten minutes.   When I am finished, it doesn’t feel great, but it feels okay. It feels okay to fail because I know I have learned. I have gone to the training. I have shown up. I have tried. I have not been too shy, too scared, too weak.

I ended three miles behind to the applause of my teammates and the men training with us. Sometimes I don’t know what winning will be. It won’t be winning the race, not this year at least, but it might be something else. It might be winning the respect of myself.

The other day it was thirty-nine degrees out. I got home from the café and I put on all of my warm clothes and I looked it mirror and thought, “I can do this.”

I got on my bike and I was off. Twenty-four miles per hour felt good.   My legs could do it. I didn’t go for that long because it was effing freezing with the wind chill, but I went to Delaware Park and I did it. I did a few laps and then made it home, chilled to the bone. It wasn’t a long distance—a quick eight miles. I hadn’t conquered anything grand, but I got back on my bike.

When I was out there in the park by myself, I saw the beauty of our city. I rode past the bison. I rode through the molecules of the cloudy day. I looked at my life and I realized: I am so happy. It’s not about the down hills. It’s not about always succeeding. It’s about the challenge. It’s about the uphills, the hard grind, my legs pushing and pushing and pushing through. It’s about the failure. Failure is what makes us who we are; without failure, we would never risk anything. Without failure, we would never learn. Cycling. These moments in my mind. These memories. This time in my life. It’s just all so damn beautiful.

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