ONE OF MY first experiences with the deep shame of failure was when I got dropped from the starting lineup of the youth soccer team. As goalie, you’re either the hero or the villain, and I’d been Wanted Poster material after letting in a couple of howlers during a real drubbing over the weekend.
Ever heard the joke about the goalkeeper who went into the dressing room after playing a terrible game, sat down, and let his head fall into his hands—and dropped it? That was me.
I trudged home from midweek practice after the manager had told me I was being benched, utterly disconsolate. I was sure everyone was thinking what a total loser I was. I managed to hold the tears back, but I don’t think my 13-year-old attempts at nonchalance fooled Mom for a moment.
That certainly wasn’t the last time I experienced the sickly hollowness of feeling exposed and inadequate. If goalkeepers set themselves up for public humiliation by virtue of their position, then so do journalists. As someone once observed, “Doctors bury their mistakes and lawyers hang them, but journalists put theirs on the front page.” And, despite my best efforts, I have dropped the ball as a writer and editor sometimes over the years.
Each occasion has left me writhing internally, usually taking me a good while to bounce back. Much as people might tell me that everyone makes a mistake now and then, I found it hard to let go. I’d fret over the error again and again, like running my tongue over the gap of a just-extracted tooth.
Now, it’s not bad to be seriously remorseful, as long as you’re motivated to strive even harder to do your best in the future. Better that than just give up. But I’ve learned that it is important to be able to own your failure without believing you are indeed a failure. The error is your actions, not your essence.
And it’s worth bearing in mind that while some errors are clear-cut black and white—like my youthful bishop gaffe—others come in shades of gray. I came to realize this, appropriately enough, from the world of soccer.
It’s as cutthroat a business as any, with managers being let go after the shortest of bad spells. Nothing says you’ve underperformed like being shown the door midway through the season. But then I realized that not long after being pushed out by one club, many of these guys were being welcomed as saviors by another squad that was giving them a new contract. Presumably, the folks there saw the recent poor performance through a different lens, one that took into account a longer history.
It reminded me that sometimes failure may be real, but it’s not universal or ultimate.Photo: Vintage photo created by jcomp – www.freepik.com