At the tender age of 18, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I was packed off to the British Academy to spend my gap year coaching skiing. Laden with bags, skis, sports equipment, a mountain bike and just generally far too much kit, I embarked on an incredible journey that would teach me many a lesson in life, but one lesson in particular.
Our first camp saw us head to Les Deux Alpes in France where we trained for three weeks on the glacier. And boy did we have fun! It’s funny how looking back on things, one always remembers the good times! But I can confidently say that it was not all plain sailing. Things went wrong. A lot of things went wrong! On a few occasions we seem to deviate so much from the plan that I couldn’t even remember what the plan had been or if we had in fact ever had a plan in the first place!
From injured athletes (I went to the hospital 5 times in that first camp alone), to lost athletes (who thankfully usually turned up in the café at the bottom of the hill with a large hot chocolate!), bad weather to equipment failures, to the simple logistical problem of getting 25 teenagers in one place at one time, we saw it all!
One day at the end of the second week, when most of the above had occurred, and the snow in particular had decided not to play ball, pretty much melting to form a swimming pool half way down our slalom course, one of the athletes handed me a little poem written on a scrap of paper:
When things go wrong; as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,
It’s when things seem the worst that you must not quit.
It is brilliant and always will be brilliant. In fact every time I read it, I think it’s even more brilliant than the previous time I read it!
I hung the scrap of paper on my wall and read it over and over again during my gap year. And through thick and thin, we really did stick to the fight and not quit, ending the season British Schoolgirl Champions, British National Team Champions and generally top British Club on the circuit.
And this is the lesson – ‘Success is failure turned inside out…it’s when things seem the worst that you must not quit’ It’s easy to do things you are good at or know how to do but it isn’t easy to do things you know nothing about or haven’t yet attempted. But if you don’t try things and push the boundaries and make mistakes you will never give yourself the opportunity to improve. As my Father has always said ‘do a bad job first and then do it again!’
I have kept this little poem very close to my heart and referred back to it many a time since that fruitful day on the mountain; as this philosophy runs true in all areas of life. Whatever you wish to achieve, stay focused and get something written, anything, however bad it may seem, then take stock of your mistakes, learn from them and do it all again!
I find this theory works particularly well in sport where environmental and external factors can have a huge impact on outcome and results. If you can get your head around using your failures to your advantages, and working off them, you will succeed. When you’re struggling to put one foot in front of the other, ‘when the road you’re trudging literally does seem all uphill’, if you focus in and dig deep, you’ll go through the pain barrier and come out the other side. Elation!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying here that we should embrace negativity. No. But we should use it. And use it well…
Success is failure turned inside out.