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Several years ago (1997 to be exact) I found myself staring down the brand new Park City, UT 2002 Winter Olympic bobsled track, about to take a ride in a four-man bobsled that would change my life. It was perfect timing, too, since I was an active high school sophomore who, like so many teens, was struggling to figure out who he was in the world. And while I would absolutely categorize myself as a good kid, I also battled the hidden burdens of anxiety and depression and probably a lower self-esteem than everyone (including myself) thought I had, so bobsled was a Heaven-sent way for me to gain confidence, direction, aspirations, motivation and much more.
But let's be honest, high school is a period of our lives that most of us are glad to be past. And yet, those formative years were crucial in our personal development and where we often gain an inaccurate perspective on one aspect of life: failure.
That's right, I used the F-word: failure. F-a-i-l-u-r-e. I could even unleash my inner child: failurefailurefailurefailurefailurefailure. FAILURE.
When we think of "failure" we often conjure up negative words and connotations like loser, mistake, unable, defeated, fiasco, messy, unsuccessful, and worst of all, not good enough. I hate that one. And while I spoke of high school, even elementary school kids have developed the mental picture that failure = bad, success = good.
But what if, just what if a bad failure could be seen as a good success?
"Did he just Jedi-mind trick me?", you may ask. Not exactly, but the question you should really ask is "What if everything I know about failure is wrong?"
Answer: I think it is. Let me introduce you to The Art of Failing Forward.
"What does it feel like to crash?"
That seems to be the second most popular question I receive when people find out I'm a bobsled pilot and coach (the first being, 'Have you seen Cool Runnings?' which of course I have). What does a bobsled crash feel like? Sadly, most people are disappointed that not every crash results in concussions, broken bones, or near death experiences. They can be violent, yes, but usually a bobsled crash is just a "hold on and wait for the ride to come to a complete stop" kind of affair. You try to keep your body off the ice so you don't get ice burns (which can be pretty nasty), but a crash is just part of the sport and you learn to roll with the punches.
I guess you could say that that is one of the first things bobsled taught me about adversity, that in order to keep playing the game you have to roll with the punches and keep moving forward. It is natural for newer drivers to be nervous about driving the track again after they just crashed, but you always silently cheer for those who face those fears and do it anyway. In life, we all face a choice whenever adversity or hard times come our way: we can let the fear prevent us from trying again, from dreaming again, from loving again or from believing in goodness again, but that choice is ours alone. As bobsled athletes, no coach can force us to take to the ice if we decide that our fears are more valid than our goals. Similarly, in life no one, not even God, can force us to reach for the stars if we choose to listen to our fears instead of our faith, and I'm not talking religious faith; I mean our beliefs that life can be amazing if we work for it and allow good things come our way.
A recent encounter with a bump in the road (aka "adversity") in the pursuit of one of my goals, for some reason my mind turned to Peter the apostle in the Bible's New Testament. Now, even if you aren't Christian, keep reading because I realized that one of Peter's experiences in his life can teach us quite a bit about setting, keeping and working for goals.
The story in question is found in St. Mathew chapter 14 (or St. Mark 6 and St. John 6). The story tells us that Jesus Christ's disciples, of which Peter was one, were out on a small fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee on their way to Capernaum. We read that it was late at night, during the "fourth watch" which according to the Roman's method of keeping time was "quarta vigilia noctis", or just before dawn, which tells us that the disciples had been rowing and fighting the storm throughout the night.
Now storms on the Sea of Galilee can be quite violent due to the cold air coming down from the hills around the sea where it meets the warmer air around the Galilee due to the lower elevation. So there the disciples were; it was late, it was violently stormy, the wind was roaring, the waves were crashing over the tiny boat's sides and the rain was coming down in sheets. It was at this point that Jesus appeared, walking across the thrashing water. While the disciples feard it was spirit at first, Jesus said "Be of good acheer; it is I; be not afraid." Peter, upon seeing his master, cries out, "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water." to which Jesus simply responds, "Come." This is where it gets interesting.
Several years ago I went backpacking with a group down to Paria Canyon in Southern Utah. Located within the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area, this beautiful 50-mile hike was a breathtaking adventure in some of God's greatest creations. With stunning sandstone "sculptures" molded by wind and water and overwhelming 300-400 foot tall cliff walls, this trip was where I fell in love with Southern Utah.
During this trip we would sleep out under the stars and I remember one night gazing up into the cosmos and trying to count the infinite number of bright lights that hung in the night sky. The air was so clear down there that I felt as though I could raise up my hand and touch the stars.
Touching the stars. Not many of us try to do that anymore. As kids we all had these marvelous dreams and hopes for the future, but somewhere along the way we start to lose that magic, that special spark of "anything is possible". Reality sets in and imagination goes out the window. No wonder so many people in this world are bored, sad, lonely and discouraged! You can see it in their eyes; they've stopped dreaming.
They've stopped reaching for the stars.