I remember losing in the high school Provincial (aka State) final my senior year of high school. I sat on the field, having lost in overtime to our biggest rivals, feeling utterly empty inside. I felt so empty in fact, that the tears that under the circumstances that I would have expected to fall, were nowhere to be seen. I had given absolutely everything I had, my best was not good enough and I had come up short.
I sat there, paralyzed, as those feelings of failure absorbed every inch of my being.
Picking at the grass, staring into space, the celebrating team a distant fog in the background, morose thoughts rolled through my mind. Where my friend Ros, who is still one of the most talented players I have ever come across, had scored two goals in overtime propelling her team to victory, I had spent most of the game feeling like I was driving a car on empty.
We often aren’t kind to ourselves in times of shortcomings.
I didn’t cut myself some slack in that we had to play 5 90 minute games in 3 days, and that I had got hit so hard in the head in the semi-final the day before that I had to go to the hospital and beg the doctor to not put proper stitches in so I could play in the final the next day (the word concussion was about ten years away from having any significance in youth sports). Hit or no hit, Ros was immensely talented, and likely still would have smashed two tremendous goals, and I still would have led the team that finished second best.
Not once while I sat there, staring into the distance, did I think of how far I had come.
How just 3 years before I didn’t even play high school soccer because I had such high social anxiety that I was scared to go to the information meeting. I didn’t remind myself that how one year before I was an average player on a team of stars. And it didn’t pop into my head, as I wallowed in my sadness how that very year we weren’t expected to do anything because we lost all our impact players. I wasn’t ready to embrace the magical year that I had just finished where I had stepped up with my closest friends and played at a far higher level than I ever had, helping lead my team far past somewhere anyone in pre-season thought we would be.
Instead, I just thought how much it hurt to come so close to something I wanted so badly, feeling like I had let my team and coaches down. I wondered if the pain of being so close, failing and feeling that I put my heart and soul into something and not being good enough was worth even trying at all.
It was a question I thought about for a good while after, as the pain of that loss slowly dissipated with time.
Unfortunately, it’s a trait far too common in humans: instead of measuring our success by how far we have come, sometimes we just see those inches that we are away from whatever destination we wanted to end up or what we wanted to have. That destination representing what society reinforces to us as success, as anything less occupies the space of failure. And the risk of failure is that it becomes a wall that we don’t have the courage to scale, to find out what incredible things could lie on the other side.
Yet that game was just a stepping-stone to much greater experiences. I did continue to put my heart and soul into my soccer moving forward, and that game where I was second best became a small piece in the greater picture of shaping me of the person and player that I dreamed I could be. I had to embrace my failure in order to continue to climb to higher places and learn larger lessons and have even bigger experiences. I had to show myself some kindness and remind myself that I had given things the best of my ability that I could at the time, and that’s all I could ask of myself. Through embracing failure, the failure that hurt so much when you give what you believe is your best and come up short, by trying again I was growing and giving myself the chance of an amazing future that contained everything that I ever dreamed of.
Having the courage to be fearless of failure, to put our best foot forward and experiencing heartbreak and heartache, allows us insight about ourselves and about life that isn’t possible if don’t have the courage to continue to put our best foot forward and climb the wall of failure with reckless abandon.
And as I always like to tell myself as I persevere through another failure in life or in soccer, the higher the mountain, the better the view. I’ve learned success in life is not black or white as society tries to reinforce in us; instead success in life is found in the incredible colors and detail of a magnificent view, one that stands far higher and casts a net much wider than anything we ever dreamed possible.