Sometimes we mess up. Sometimes we don’t measure up. It isn’t that we didn’t try hard, or practice, or give 100% of our effort. It’s just that there is something missing. I used to think that it meant that there was something wrong with me as a person, or that it was a sign that I wasn’t meant to do whatever I was attempting. What I have discovered, is that a “failure” is often the best guide to success.
Just the other day I was reminded of this with a perfect real-life example. I recently held a belt test for my beginner students and most of them passed with flying colors. However, there were a few that struggled and were unable to get their next rank that day. One student in particular was a surprise to me. He had been practicing hard both in the dojang and at home. In fact, his mother had even scheduled a special private lesson for him a few days before the test to make sure he was prepared. That is an unusual amount of commitment both from the student and the mom, and I admit I was impressed. I fully expected the student to pass his test. Throughout the entire test, the student performed admirably. The final piece of the puzzle for all my students is to break a board with a designated technique for their level. My young student (a boy of about 6) had broken a board before with a different technique and had demonstrated the necessary kick in class with sufficient accuracy and force to break his board. He prepared for his kick, turned and let his foot fly at the board…nothing. The board remained intact. After that first attempt, the student lost confidence in his abilities. Try as he might, he could not break the board. Unfortunately, that also meant that he would not be receiving his new belt rank that day.
One of my policies for kids, is that if they accomplish everything but the breaking of the board, they can come back each class and attempt to break their board. When they succeed, they are given their new rank. I explained this to the boy and to his mother. They were both visibly upset, but I knew that it would be worse for the child to give him the belt without him having broken the board. The test was performed on a Thursday evening, and the next class period for that student was on Tuesday. Four long days. I wondered if the student would even return to class. Many who fail a test never come back. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when the boy and his mother showed up early for class on Tuesday. Something was different. The boy was wide-eyed and determined. He was usually pretty quiet, but he could not wait to ask me if he could try again to break his board. As I held the board, his mother got ready to take a video of him. Almost before she was ready, the boy turned and kicked the board with perfect form and precision. The board snapped like a twig.
You should have seen that boy’s face. He was one happy camper! After congratulating him and tying on his new belt, I talked to his mom for a moment. She informed me that they had been practicing a lot since the day of the belt test. They had actually found a small box that was similar in size to the board for him to kick. When the student came in, he was confident. He KNEW he could hit the board. Then, without even a second thought, he shattered the board that had so recently caused him to feel like a failure. You see, “failures” aren’t an end. In fact, someone once told me that you have never truly failed until you have given up. Rather than letting your disappointments and mistakes stop you in your tracks. Use them as a teacher and a motivator. My student knew that he had passed every other part of the test. Instead of spending all his time worrying about what he knew, he focused in on the one thing that kept him from his goal. Through training and mental preparation, he overcame his obstacle and achieved his goal. In fact, I would even say that he probably values his achievement more than many of the other students because it was kept from him temporarily. Now he can feel the satisfaction of knowing that he overcame something that felt insurmountable.
Take a few minutes to think about the things in your life that have held you back. Focus in on the one piece of the puzzle that you were missing and train yourself to overcome that puzzle. Then, put everything else behind you, and hit that obstacle with your whole focus! See what happens when you use a mess up as a stepping stone to climb higher on your life journey.