Monday 28 September 2009

The illusion of failure

I am the first to admit it - I'm not blessed the physical arena. Whether it's dancing or tennis, I simply lack the ability to coordinate multiple body parts with any sense of ease, rhythm or flow. Add a ball and racket into the equation and the result is shambolic! It's a shame, but that's how it is.

So, although it had disaster written all over it, I desperately wanted to try water skiing while on holiday. In the closing hours of our stay I realised I had to honour that desire... who knows, maybe I'd surprise myself!

Ten minutes before the lesson began I was at the pier, abuzz with ill-concealed nerves. I chatted and joked with other guests. I was the first in. On the first go, I lost my balance before the speed boat even moved off! The next time, I ended up on my stomach (not the desired position!), on the third attempt, I was on my stomach again... at the fourth attempt I managed rise just above the water and then lost balance: again.

It was humiliating, because not just were there about 20 spectators on the pier, there were those having lunch at the pier restaurant and those on the beach. I failed. In fact, I failed magnificently in public. I was the case study in how not to waterski.

But what surprised me was, as I got back up onto the pier, the people with whom I had been chatting looked away from with a mixture of shame and embarrassment. I went back to our beach chairs and promptly burst into tears... I had been embarrassed by my distinct lack of talent, but the feeling of shame that I felt from the spectators left me feeling empty and somehow dirty.

Several tissues later, I decided that I wasn't going to end my holiday feeling like that, so I started looking for the positive story in my little adventure. And ten minutes later I found it...

It takes a courage and humility (if I say so myself!) to attempt something that we have dreamt of doing, even if the odds are stacked against us. The fact that I dared to believe the impossible, that I may be good at this sport, in the face of all previous experience showed me that I have achieved some small sense of freedom in my life; I'm willing to look foolish to follow my dream. The fear others have of failing, and the fear I have of failing is present, but there is more hope than fear, more optimism than pessimism.

In those magnificent ten minutes of failure, I found my greatest of successes. I was truly alive. I can be bold. I can be brave. I can even be bold and brave in the face of almost certain failure in order to be true to myself. To feel magnificently alive. Understanding that turned out to be the highpoint of my holiday.

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