“Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo. Keep going.”
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
When I returned home from National Student Conclave (NSC) 2017 in Portland, Oregon, after an unsuccessful campaign for a position on the APTA Student Assembly Board (SABoD), a quote from Timber Hawkeye of Buddhist Boot Camp appeared in my Facebook feed. It was exactly what I needed to read, at just at the right time.
"Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo. Keep going."
I had taken a big chance running for a position on the national board. I've never run for any kind of office, much less put myself out there on such a big stage, and I was up against some serious competition. But I had prior work experience related to the position that I was seeking and thought that would give me an edge, so it stung when I found out that I didn't win.
While commiserating with some of the other candidates after the results came in, I thought of the different times that I had taken a flying leap, only to land flat on my face. It's happened often over the course of my life, but 2 instances in particular came to mind. They are important not only because of the spectacular ways in which I failed, but also because of the ways that they profoundly changed my life.
The first was coming in dead last at my first triathlon.
Let me first say, my poor ranking wasn't due to a lack of preparation or determination. I panicked during the swim and barely got out of the water without drowning, and I was so gassed after the bike that I had to walk most of the run.
It took me so long to reach the end of the race that they actually took down the finish line and the photographer had packed up and left before I got there. So suffice to say, that day wasn't my highest moment, but I was so proud of myself for trying and (eventually) completing something outside of my comfort zone that I was determined to keep going.
I sought out professional coaches and local groups of like-minded people with whom to train, and now, in addition to multiple races of a variety of lengths, I've completed 2 marathons and 2 half iron distance triathlons. I also obtained certifications as a triathlon, running, and cycling coach. This experience and my clients' overuse injuries are actually what led me down the path to become a physical therapist.
Speaking of physical therapy school, that's the other place I failed hard.
Returning to school after 16 years of working in a completely different field is probably the toughest thing I've ever done. I struggled every single second of my first semester, both with the sheer volume of information there was to learn, as well as with figuring out an entirely new way to study.
Despite my best efforts, I ended up with a C in gross anatomy lecture, which meant sitting out for a semester and retaking the class the following fall with a new cohort.
I might have just reconsidered physical therapy school altogether, but my program's director and faculty had faith in me and encouraged me to give it another chance. So again, I kept going.
I took the intervening time to figure out my learning style and overhaul my study habits, and I reviewed anatomy on my own at a slower pace that allowed me to really soak up the information. Needless to say, I aced the class on my second try. Not that there haven't been other speed bumps in the semesters that followed, but I persevered, and I discovered along the way that studying for practicals and exams isn't all there is to physical therapy school.
I started volunteering with an adaptive yoga class and with a YMCA program for chronic stroke survivors, I judged undergraduate research poster presentations at a school showcase, and I reviewed article submissions for a student physical therapy journal. I also attended APTA's Combined Sections Meeting in San Antonio and was so jazzed by the experience that I jumped at the chance to run for a position on the SABoD and attend NSC.
So there I was, sitting in the lobby of the convention center at NSC, trying to put a positive spin on the loss. I thought about how I could—once again—keep going.
I'd made a lot of new friends over the previous 3 days, all of whom are go-getters and very active in their schools and their student APTA chapters, as well as in advocacy and volunteer work. They're an inspiring group, and they encouraged me to keep the fire alive once I returned home.
Now, I'm working on getting my state's defunct Student Special Interest Group running again, and I have applied for a position on a national project committee. I'm also going to attend CSM 2018 in New Orleans, where I'll present my DPT research project as a poster, and hopefully reconnect with my new #PTFam.
Despite the pain associated with it, it's important for us all to realize that failure is just a bruise. It's temporary, not permanent. It teaches us lessons, then the pain fades. Unlike tattoos, we don't have to live with our failures for the rest of our lives. We simply experience them, we learn from them if we can, and above all else, we keep going.
Robyn Culbertson, SPT, is a student at the University of South Carolina. You can connect with Robyn on Facebook and Twitter: @roboothed.