I was watching last night when Lindsey Jacobellis failed out. For anybody who isn't following the winter Olympics, Jacobellis is a snowboarder. At the last winter games, she had a solid lead for a gold medal in the snowcross racing event. But she stumbled just short of the finish line and had to settle for silver. This year, much was made of her comeback moment. She did interviews, NBC ran features on her, she got endorsement deals. It was a Big Deal. An athlete seeking redemption, or in the words of Bob Costas, a chance to "silence her critics once and for all."
But Jacobellis didn't even make the finals. In the semi-final, she kind of bobbled coming off a jump, then clipped a gate, and her race was over. It didn't look like much, honestly, and it was probably the kind of thing that's happened to her a million times before in practice and during lesser races. But this time it cost her.
I watched the replay a few times. Right after she went out of bounds, she raised her hands as if to say, "How can this be happening?" Then she stopped and just looked down the hill, where her Olympic dreams were racing away from her.
At the same time I was watching this, my wife was watching a girl get cut from the final 24 in American Idol. I didn't see it, but she said this girl broke down and begged the judges for a chance. My wife said it passed the point of spunk and just got embarrassing. This singer, who came so close, just couldn't understand that the decision was made, it was irrevocable, and her own want—no matter how large it was—meant nothing.
I kind of understood how this feels. I've never failed on such a big stage, or so publicly, but I've definitely notched up an impressive list of failures. The worst, of course, came just last year, with a massive book rejection.
Contrary to what they say, I don't really believe failure builds character. Failure is just failure. What builds character is what comes AFTER the failure. Sometimes I think we place too much emphasis on emotion, too much care and thought are given to processing and recovering from and understanding a failure. Is it really that hard to understand? Jacobellis bombed her race. My book wasn't good enough. Or as Simon told the American Idol contestant when she asked what she did wrong, "You just didn't sing as well as they did."
If I could give my kids any wisdom I've learned from getting kicked in the teeth over the years, it would be this: "Feel whatever you have to feel, but DO what you have to DO." After you flame out, go ahead and throw a pity party, doubt your talent, get angry, get sad, cry your eyes out, get drunk, sober up and get drunk again, annoy your friends with forlorn emails, curse the powers that be ... do all these things. But whatever you do, don't QUIT. Stay in motion. Keep writing. Keep singing. Prepare for your next event the way you've prepared for every other event. Let the emotion run its course, move through the stages and let it drain away. But the one thing you can never, ever do is give up, because once you've done that, then all you'll ever know is failure.