On Failure

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 “Until you can’t fail”

            It is a phrase you hear often enough in parkour.  The idea is simple.  Parkour involves movements designed to cope with dangerous situations.  Your life, your health, your well being may hinge on being able to perform.  In some situations, someone else’s life, health and well being could rely on your abilities.  At the very least, an improperly executed movement can cause injury in and of itself.  Because of this, it is not enough just to train until you are capable of a movement.  You have to train until movements are so thoroughly engrained, so natural that failing at them is nearly impossible.  Until the very idea of failure is as ludicrous as tripping while walking out the front door…

 

“This old man still has to train and train” –Ueshiba Morihei

 

           And there’s the rub.  Have you ever tripped walking out the front door?  I have.  Numerous times.  There is a piece of that phrase “until you can’t fail” that tends to get glossed over.  “Until…”  It is an open ended goal.  It is a search for perfection, but as Sebastien Foucan says, “perfection doesn’t exist.”  If you have been around parkour for any length of time, you’ve probably seen the “Belle fall.”  David Belle, in California to promote the U.S. release of B13, takes a tumble on (for him) a simple cat pass.  What does this tell us?  Does anyone think he, of all people, hasn’t put in his training time?

 

“He fell”

“Everyone falls…”

“What does it mean?”

“Nothing.  It means nothing.”

–The Matrix

 

Until you can’t fail.  We get so hung up on the “can’t” that we forget there’s a journey involved there–“until.”  No one likes to hear this, but it is a given that you will fail while seeking a goal.  If not, it isn’t really a goal, it’s a circumstance—you’ve already reached it.  Yet somehow failure itself becomes a taboo.  The fear of it, the horror and shame of it, becomes its own impediment.  “Until you can’t fail” shifts from a motivation to a defense to a justification or even denial.  But failure does not automatically constitute an ending.

 


“And why do we fall, Bruce?  So we can pick ourselves up again.”  –Thomas Wayne

 

           Some feel failure is not permissible.  Perhaps they are unused to feeling its sting, or feel they are somehow in a position which requires they be somehow “above” failing.  They feel that to fail, especially in front of others; to acknowledge that failure or even its possibility somehow invalidates what they say and do otherwise.  “Pride and Poppycock!”  I can hear my Aunt Jackie say.  Everyone falls.  Everyone experiences setbacks, from the greenest novice to the most experienced practitioner.

             Failure is an obstacle.  For some of us, it is the most daunting obstacle we’ll ever face.  We fail, and it convinces us not to try again.  We fear failing, and it deters us from trying at all.  You can go a lifetime avoiding failure only to find that ultimately, that very avoidance will inevitably fail.  I guarantee that everyone reading this has failed in some way in the past.  I also guarantee that they will fail again in the future, sometimes spectacularly.  What does it mean?  Nothing.

             Failure and success are not exclusive concepts.  In fact, more often than not, one requires the other in some measure.  Failure is inevitable.  Fearing it, avoiding it, makes very little difference; and more often than not will prolong rather than postpone it.  Only when you accept and acknowledge failure and your capacity to fail–without giving reign to it–can you move on to success.

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