Sitting in Camp Randall Stadium at The University of Wisconsin a few weeks ago, I realized that I was much, much less hungover for my brother-in-law’s graduation than I was for my own at that very same university seven years before. In this lucid state, I settled in and decided to take in the commencement address from Katie Couric as if it were meant for my own graduating class.
Two themes in Katie’s address made me think about things in terms of the parallels between fitness and life: Failure and hard work.
In life and in fitness:
- if you’ve never failed, you’ve stayed too close to your comfort zone.
- Hard work is the one secret for success that is always within your control.
Here’s what she said (read the full transcript here):
“But it’s amazing to me how many stories of success include one word: failure.
Experiencing setbacks, disappointments and, yes, failure helps you develop another essential skill. And that’s resilience. …
There’s undoubtedly going to be some turbulence. You will face painful setbacks, crushing disappointment, bruised egos and broken hearts. But as Winston Churchill (who incidentally failed the entrance exam for the Royal Military College not once, but twice, and barely eked by the third time) said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts.”
What’s another important ingredient to a productive life? Two words: hard work. That’s the secret sauce for success. So defy the stereotype that young people today are entitled and expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. You have to earn it. And you have to be patient.”
It can be scary outside of that comfort zone both inside and out of the gym. You might make a fool of yourself, you might fall or you may find that you lack the strength to do what you want to do. But the true test of your strength isn’t in the act of succeeding, it’s in the act of getting back up, dusting yourself off and figuring out a way to say, “I did it.”
Failure as a tool for acquiring strength is built into the fabric of who we are as people. When we’re young, our parents teach us to balance on a two-wheeled death-machine, knowing fully that we’re going to fall down and scrape our knees, where we’ll develop pillowy scars that will follow us for life.
But nonetheless, they push us to get back up. They wipe away our tears. Comfort us after we fall. Bribe us with some ice cream and the “cool bandaids.” Then the ask us if we’re ready and put us back on the seat. Before you know it, mom or dad run along beside you with one hand on your seat and you say, “I’m ready.” They let go and you keep trying until you can put on the brakes by yourself, put your feet down and say, “I did it.”
Failing in your workout helps you find your limits and set your goals. It’s the adult equivalent of falling off of a bike. Picking up a set of weights too heavy for you to use for a full workout shows you where your limits are. Hitting a wall at mile eight when you’re working to run 13.1 shows you that you’ve got some work to do.
This is where a lot of hard work and a little bit of stubbornness come in. The difference between failure and “I did it” is the choice to never accept that failure, to get up after getting the wind knocked out of you after trying a hand-stand for the 10th time, take a deep breath and say, “I’m ready.”
Dust yourself off and get stronger with every single failure.