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Weekly musing September 27: We all fail

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Failure is just part of life

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I normally try to stay out of basketball in the weekly musing but this week the Denver Nuggets fit into the theme. I’ll get to them in a second. First, it’s true what they say about your kids and athletic activity. As high as the stakes felt when I was competing in my youth, they feel so much higher when it’s my seven year old out there. She showed interest in extra curricular activities at a young age but we struggled to find one that really stuck. She was interested in the things you’d expect a young girl to be interested in: dance, gymnastics, horses. Those interests seemed fleeting (or in the case of horses not really feasible). She showed more interest in the foam pit than learning the balance beam in gymnastics, dance was fine but not something she really seemed passionate about. Then a friends birthday party changed everything. My daughter’s best friend in kindergarten was a boy and when he had his birthday party the summer after their first year in school together naturally my daughter had to go. The venue? His karate dojo.

From the moment they cut that birthday cake with a samurai sword my daughter was hooked. As a girl dad there’s something I had to come to terms with quickly. The world is dangerous for the two most important people in my life, more dangerous than it ever will be for me and at some point I won’t be there to protect them. When my daughter not only showed interest in taekwondo but also a passion for it like nothing she had done before, I was all in. She’s been working hard over the past year and half, progressing through the ranks. It’s been a joy to watch her go from learning basic kicks and punches to being able to do complicated forms and combos. Last week she was ready to test for her purple belt, naturally she was more excited about the purple belt than any before. It also was the toughest test to date. With the coronavirus pandemic her classes are almost exclusively virtual and while her instructors have adapted magnificently, both them and her are at the mercy of the internet connection.

Her purple belt test was tough. She got lost in one of the combos, and since she focused so hard on her current curriculum, when the surprise portions of the test that focused on forms from previous belt ranks came up she really struggled. When the tears started to well up in her eyes I was crushed. I knew how hard she had worked, how much she wanted to succeed, but she was failing. Her instructor saw those same tears welling up as well. He looked her in the eye and re-assured her, reminded her that getting one part of the test wrong was no reason to let the whole test go wrong. After it was over, her instructor and I had a long talk about confidence and fighting through failure, then she went back out on the mat, re-did her test and got the purple belt she’s worked so hard for. It was a beaming moment of pride for me.

It wasn’t pride about the fact she had gained the next rank in her karate journey, not even about the fact that she had mastered more skills that will continue to help her defend herself. No, I was proud because she failed, she knew she had failed and when she failed the decision she made was to fight through it, try again and succeed. I think a lot about the lessons I want to teach my kids, “we all fail” is one of the biggest ones. So much of my life when I first got out of my parents house was geared around the fear of failure. I never wanted to be considered someone who wasn’t a success, I never wanted to just get by. I pushed myself forward down paths that weren’t about passion, but about getting ahead. Now as I enter middle age, I look back and wish I had done things differently. I wish I had taken more chances to find my passion in life rather than to chase dollars and promotions. I never want my kids to go that way too.

The fact of the matter is the Denver Nuggets failed too, at least in reaching their ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship. After two incredible comebacks they were unable to do it a third time and end up bowing out of the Western Conference Finals rather unceremoniously. Yet, I think we can all agree there’s nothing but pride for the way this team performed, and nothing but confidence in their future. Part of that is because their failures provide education on how to succeed in the future. They overcame failures in their series against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers and succeeded, and their failure to the Los Angeles Lakers provides a valuable lesson in not falling behind in series because it’s exhausting to bounce back and eventually you run into a team that is too difficult to overcome in those circumstances. They saw how teams with size in their frontcourt, not the wings, is now the biggest matchup disadvantage they have. They saw the core of the present and the future solidify itself greatly in Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. The failure to the Lakers only prepares the Nuggets to succeed that much more next season.

I may be middle aged at this point, but that won’t stop me from striving for my dreams. Fear of failure won’t do that either. We. All. Fail. It’s a simple fact of life. There’s only one thing wrong with falling off the wagon and that’s if you decide to not get back on. As weird as it sounds, the moment we embrace failure is the moment we set ourselves up for success. If you can accept that sometimes things are going to go wrong and you can view those times as learning experiences and opportunities for improvement then you turn those failures into future successes. Sometimes it can be almost immediate, as was the case for my daughter, sometimes it can take months or years, as will be the case for the Nuggets, but as long as you keep going, keep fighting, keep getting back on that wagon, you’ll always succeed in the end.