Failure and the Barbell

I walked into the gym more excited than usual. It was the culmination of the past twelve weeks of work. The day I get to test my squat max. I was confident as I began to load the barbell with weight; the familiar sound of metal sliding across metal. I had done everything right the past weeks. No missed training, no slacking, no easy days. As the weigh got heavier I thought of the all literal blood, sweat, and tears shed upon this barbell the past twelve weeks. Months of work with a single focus leading me to a brief moment in time lasting no more than a single breath. All of this raced through my head as I put the last of the plates on the bar. My hands wrapped around the bar, I filled my lungs with air, and rested the bar on my chest. “Fast, fast, fast” I told myself. I descended straining against the weight, and then the moment. The moment when the twelve weeks of work slipped through my fingers like sand as the weight freed itself from my body and slammed into the ground. I looked down at the bar resting firmly on the ground proof of Newton’s law of gravity. Once again, gravity, that unrelenting foe that we wage war against from our first breath till our last breath has won.

I will spare you the choice language I used. Let’s just say it was very colorful. I put the bar back on the rack and tried again…and again…and again. The same result every time…failure. I sit down feeling lost…defeated. At this point I am ready to quit, give up on the day. What’s the point after all? The months of work was a waste…wasn’t it? I couldn’t lift the barbell.

On a long enough time line we will all face these moments; not only with athletics, but also with all other aspects of our lives. I believe the moments when we have lost our focus, our enthusiasm, or even our purpose for doing something is one of the most important in the life of an athlete. They are a key fork in the road going down two vastly different paths. It’s at these times when we can grow the most or when we can let the barbell…let life beat us.

Most everyone knows what it is like to pour ourselves out for something, do everything we could and still fall short. It’s easy to give up, to feel sorry for ourselves, to get angry at ourselves…to quit. For some reason we would rather feel sorry for ourselves than do something about it. It’s in our nature as humans. Unfortunately many of us will take this path and believe me it is a slippery slope. I have seen so many people who had all the talents that anyone could ask for allow themselves to be beaten not by a situation, but by their own negative self-talk. Every time they did not at first succeed they would get increasingly down on themselves until they almost couldn’t function. They were unable to forgive themselves, deal with their failures, and push past them.

Learning how to push past failure is a much tougher path to follow and it begins with not allowing us to feel sorry for ourselves.  Feeling sorry isn’t going to lift that barbell, get you an A+ on that exam, or get you that promotion that you deserved, but didn’t get. We have to accept that we did not accomplish what we set out to do, however that doesn’t mean we still can’t accomplish our goal. Focus on what you learned and gained from the hard work. In my case my one rep max squat did not go up, but all my other rep maxes went up. I felt stronger with a bar and I know my form is better. Physically I improved, but more significantly mentally I improved. I got up after missing my squat and finished my workout with intensity. I made the conscious decision to not let it affect me. Learning how to deal with failure takes time and there have been times when it has really thrown me off.

When I first started lifting anytime I did not hit a new personal record, did poorly in a workout, or didn’t take first place at a competition I would get down on myself filling my head with negative self-talk. This type of self-sabotage is something I believe we all do and can have a huge negative impact on training. It took me a long time to be able to learn how to not base my worth on how I performed on a day to day basis. Holding a grudge against yourself for every little thing you do wrong will add up very quickly. It took the fun out of training, ruined my mental game, and stole my desire. I had to learn how to forgive myself. Allowing myself forgiveness for my failures allowed me to only not only push myself harder, but also helped me to learn how to have fun in the gym again. It has been huge in making me a mentally stronger person and thus, a better athlete.

The thing with failure is it won’t happen once or twice, it will happen on a frequent maybe even daily basis. Every time we do fail we are faced with the two choices and consistently choosing to forgive and push past failure is the only way to go from good at something to becoming great at something. Let me stress this point, because this is one of the most important and yet hardest learned lessons the barbell has taught me. Sport and life in general is a marathon not a sprint. We all want to be better right now and never fail, but we must learn to accept one simple truth; every great athlete has had to face failure before they have EARNED success. Being able to fail get back up and learn from each experience and grow from every failure is the only path to success.  Imagine if Rich Froning had given up after his defeat in 2010, or Michael Jordan after being cut from his high school basketball team. If they had not been able to reconcile with their failures, they would never have gone on to reach the top of their sports. Babe Ruth one of the best home run hitters in baseball history also held another title for decades, ‘most career strikeouts’. Few people remember him for that though, because Babe Ruth knew that, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Every missed PR attempt brings me closer to my new PR and every time I fail and grow from it I am one step closer to success. Learn from your failures and don’t let them dictate to you your self-worth.


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