What failing in front of the world teaches you about life

February 17, 2015

Do you remember a time growing up when you made a mistake from which you weren’t sure your pride would be able to fully recover? A mistake that not only embarrassed yourself, but those who counted you?

I remember one. It happened on the softball field when I was in college. In my adulthood looking back, I can appreciate how insignificant it was in the grand scheme of life. But it hurt nonetheless at the time.

I remember it was the final inning and third base was occupied by a player from our in-state rival. I remember a power hitter was up to bat with two outs. That same power hitter did something unexpected…she got under a pitch and popped it up to shallow right center.

I remember we were one out away from sealing a big victory. As I sprinted backwards from my position at second base looking up at the sky to track down the ball, I remember hearing my friend and teammate, the right-fielder, yell for the catch as she raced in towards the lip of the grass. At least I thought she called for the ball.

Although realizing I had just as good of a chance to snag that pop fly as she did, I immediately veered off course to avoid a collision. And that’s when it happened. The ball dropped between us.

Game over.

I saw the look of exasperation on her face. I saw the disappointment in my pitcher’s eyes. I saw the opposite team erupt in celebration.

And I was angry.

Angry at myself for not taking control as an upperclassman. Angry for not finishing a play that we had dedicated countless hours of practice to perfect. Angry that we did everything better than our opponents that game except for one stupid play.

I think back to that moment and often wonder how much worse I would have felt had that mistake been recorded and replayed over and over again for everyone to see. Luckily for me, I competed in a world that was far less technologically connected than the one my kids are expected to navigate.

Sports fans remember certain defining, cringe-worthy moments.

Bill Buckner 1986 World Series Game 6 “Between the Legs”

Chris Webber’s 1993 NCAA Championship “Infamous Timeout”

Fred Brown’s “Inexplicable Pass” to James Worthy in 1982 NCAA Championship

It is probable if you have kids who compete in sports that your son or daughter will be put in the position to single-handedly win or lose their games. And despite the fact that games are won or lost by a series of plays by both teams, fans seem to remember the final plays over everything else.

I challenge adults to think about times when they felt as if they were falling short in some aspect of their life: Struggling to keep their spouse happy; spearheading a work project that resulted in higher costs and fewer profits; failing to deliver upon a promise to their child; gaining too much weight; not taking enough time to rest; the list goes on and on.

It is true what they say: With age comes wisdom. We have the luxury of knowing that storm clouds will eventually pass. Many budding athletes aren’t old enough to have that same level of understanding. Children run the risk of only seeing darkness on auto loop. Errors are broadcast for all to see and mock.

Resist the temptation to only shower love on your child when they succeed and are being glorified.

Resist the temptation to stand across from their opposition in joyous celebration as young heads hang low.

Resist the temptation to immerse yourself too deeply into your child’s life, for it is theirs to live.

Resist the temptation to judge yourself or other parents based on the amount of trophies our kids accumulate.

I am 100% confident that my own children will learn a great deal from their setbacks as I have with mine. Memories will always trump medals in my opinion.

Don’t waste your breath (or dignity) screaming at anyone at your kid’s next competition. This is their book to write. Flip the pages and follow along. Enjoy the story.

Written by Heidi Woodard

6 responses to What failing in front of the world teaches you about life


    I just lost a very long reply, and don’t want attempt to recreate it. Suffice it to say, this is one of your best. Very nice!


      Thanks Roy. I had been chewing on this one awhile…finally found the time and energy to get it out of my brain. There’s too much stuff floating around in there…about 20 percent of it productive.


    Excellent reminder, Heidi! I could also provide you with video footage of Shannon’s “Bringing Up The Rear In The Sprint Drills” at Jr. High basketball practice 1990 and Shannon’s “Getting Reprimanded In Disgust By Her Coach For Consistently Not Yelling Which Base Loud Enough During Cut-Off Practice”, college softball 1995, if you were able to splice into my brain.

    With me, more dangerous than the potential of big game screw-ups being replayed for the world to see, was my perfectionist personality throwing any tiny perceived fault onto a loop in my brain. A miscue on the practice field, a bad test performance in the classroom, saying something dumb in conversation. I was my own worst critic, something I still struggle with as an adult. Just today on my drive home from work, something dumb I did a year ago popped into my head on repeat and I had to tell myself, nobody’s thinking about that a year later except me. Let it go! It took me the better part of four decades to learn how detrimental it is to replay a loop of your mistakes in your own head. If you’ve got a kid who tends to be extremely self-critical, please give them a head start on this life lesson by instilling in them early not to dwell on mistakes…theirs or other’s.


      That is an EXCELLENT point. The biggest thing I’ve learned as a recovering perfectionist is that it’s OK to fall on your face every now and then. You are so right that you tend to beat yourself up for mistakes worse than anyone else around you does. You flop, you accept your physical or mental error, you move on. Life’s too short to stew. (Hhhhmmm…future T-shirt saying? Ha!)


    Great post. Especially relevant as a mother of boys that is trying to get them to be adventurous and not always play it safe in life. Thanks for the post!


      Thanks for the comment. I appreciate you reading and replying. It’s hard to simultaneously push them forward while also holding them back in an attempt to protect them from the real world. I struggle with that myself. You don’t want to see your children fail. You know how that feels. In the end, they’ll be better able to face whatever comes at them if they suffer a few bumps and bruises along the way.