Olympics and Writing – Learning from Failure

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

The London Olympics are now over and, for Australia at least, there has been a lot of soul searching over the perceived failure of some of the Australian athletes. 

I’m not a big sports fan but even I found it incredulous that the first question posed to many Australian athletes (particularly the swimmers) after they won silver or bronze was “How disappointed are you?” It got to the stage where our media was obsessed with the shortcomings of our Olympians rather than celebrating the amazing achievement involved in qualifying to even participate. 

Though it’s only human nature to focus on winning, the current climate seems to belie the positives that can come from ‘failure’ itself. We hear time and time again of writers and artists as well as athletes whose failures helped drive them to even greater success. But this isn’t something most of us like to admit.
I mean who wants to fail?

Fear of failure is what stymies many of us from reaching for our dreams. It holds us back from taking risks and, when we do fail, there are always plenty of naysayers to crowd around and say “we told you so!”

But – and this is a big but..I’m a strong believer that failure is integral to success. I don’t think there are many successful people out there who won’t have experienced some low point, some kind of failure, that hasn’t made them more resilient and more determined to succeed. Look at Winston Churchill, Walt Disney or Albert Einstein. Look at the initial pile of rejections John Grisham, Stephen King and Dr. Seuss received. 

JK Rowling talked about her own failures when she spoke to the graduating class of Harvard in June 2008 saying:

“You might never fail on the scale I did, but it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

So as a way of throwing off the post-Olympics doldrums here in Oz, I’d like to invite you to submit the best ‘failure to success’ story. It can be your own story, someone else’s story or even one for your favorite bestselling author. 

Come on, let’s celebrate failure.

11 thoughts on “Olympics and Writing – Learning from Failure

  1. I’ve always thought there’d be a good book on all the #2s. The guys who finished second. The great athletes who won silver. Silver! Your the SECOND BEST IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Bronze! Third best. That’s AMAZING! And our inane obsession with wining first at any cost is actually opposed to what the Olympic ideal is supposed to stand for.

    End of rant.

    But you’re right about failure, Clare. The “right” kind of failure is that which comes from effort, and is met with further effort until one breaks through. Learning a lesson at each stage, too. Then no failure is ever really wasted.

  2. Failure means we damn well tried, and that’s more than we can say about 90% of humanity.

    Great post, great perspective.

  3. Better to have tried and failed than to never have tried in the first place! Jim, I find the Australian media coverage really depressing – they are now agonizing how we did per capita compared to New Zealand…really?! as Vero said, almost everyone else doesn’t even try so better to have given your dreams your best shot than not to even bother!

  4. You’re right, Clare, we’ve all heard the multitude of failure stories followed by the eventual rise. I believe failure is a big part of pre-success, but only for those who have an immense talent or potential. For every failure to success story, I would guess there are millions that never succeeded for many reasons including a lack of talent or skill. I would also propose that there is an equal to fear of failure: fear of success.

  5. I didn’t follow the Olympics but I’m sorry to hear that as usual, we as humans are only obsessed with top dog status. Not that it is surprising, but disappointing nevertheless.

    It’s like Presidential elections. People can name presidents, but most cannot recall down the road who the VP’s were.

    Think how dull our lives would be without the valleys. Sure, we want to be happy and up and top of the world all the time, but really, how would we progress as humans without a few valleys or also rans?

  6. I would say that every time my option books got rejected, it has led to new vistas in writing. Rejections can be regarded as failures to a writer, or they can be viewed as opportunities.

  7. My knees and shoulders ache. I cannot run much and when I bend over my back pops and hips grind. – Body Fail

    I still remember the day I pressed 1000 lbs into the air with my legs. – Mind Win

    I fainted onstage and puked offtsage my first time in the theater lights. – Public Fail

    Everyone thought I was scared, but the doc said he was shocked 12 year old me went out there with a fever of 103 from a flu that could’a killed me. – Determination Win

    I owned a computer business that made 1.2 million in its 3rd year, problem was I spent 1.28 million then ran out of funding & ended up in default. – Fiscal Fail

    Experience gained in business taught me better customer service and resource management and now I make more money as a government computer specialist than I ever did owning my business. – Life Win

    Every girl I ever knew considered me a “cute friend” and because I never asked them out whispered “maybe he’s…you know…not interested”. When I finally got courage to ask a new Miss Beauty out she said “No”…a dozen times….in 3 languages. – Heart Fail

    Twenty Four years and four kids later Miss Beauty is still Mrs Sands and now I can say “I Love You” in five languages. – Soul Win

    I was told “You can’t write a novel, you’re a computer nerd not a writer.” And didn’t try for nearly 20 years – Goal Fail

    My fourth novel since 2006 “Midnight Sun” hit #1 on Amazon’s Spy’s & Intrigue list its third day in eBook pub. – Author Win

  8. Nice everybody got to clear the air with that Fear Itself posting on Saturday. How could I have forgotten about “open closet doors.” I check ’em all every night.

    Jeez. What a bunch of wimps!

  9. Believe it or not the soul searching continues here in Australia – now no doubt the will be the blame game as everyone dissects what ‘went wrong’. As always failure needs to be put in its proper perspective…sure not everyone goes on to succeed in spectacular fashion but if everyone gave up at the first hurdle, no one ever would:)

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