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Monday, June 24, 2024


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SPORTS—it is a long journey—a lifetime for most, regardless of whether you identify as a casual, a hobbyist, a weekend warrior, an amateur, or a professional. You don’t just play one time and then stop doing it again. Sports will be part of the best years of your life, and if you are lucky, you still get to play the sports you love close to your twilight years, for as long as your mental and physical faculties continue to crave, demand one more game.

It is a love affair that promises the excitement of victory, but not without the inescapable sorrow of defeat. It is inevitable. And recurring. Likes waves crashing against a boat fighting to make its way towards the open sea.

Once you’ve won, it is rapturous. But winning does not come instantly or on the first try, and for many athletes, victory at a high level is the peak that remains unascended, but once you are in the summit, you are jubilant beyond words you can almost see the color of happiness. If victory is always a blur of balloons and confetti, medals and trophies, high fives and hugging, and in pro sports, cigar and champagne, what do we see in failure?

Some people see in failure the end. Finite are the chances and each one exhausted. In failure, they come face to face with the truth they tried so hard to defy: not everyone will win, and so in failure, they see surrender and acceptance. It’s not that they did not try hard enough, but the truth is many allowed themselves to be deceived by the idea that hard work is always rewarded with success, convinced they paid the cost of passage towards that side of the river where glory awaits, only to arrive on the banks of hopelessness, forced to reconcile with what you’ve known all along, feared all along: not everyone gets the coveted award.

Those forced by fate to feast on a steady diet of failure will hopefully put the concept of success in a more amenable context. Your improvement—physically, socially—is, in a way, a success, because you are a better version of yourself now. Your milestones and achievements are your successes, too. At least you tried, even when others wouldn’t even attempt, and that is a personal win. So even if failure brings the end, it is not without consolation.

Some people see in failure a fork in the road. It is not the end; not quite and not exactly, but a reminder to consider a pivot. Pick a new strategy. Change the way you play the game. Or pick a new sport. It is almost the same as the people who see, in failure, opportunities. While some, in defeat, fall in the arms of despair that comforts the fallen, others gravitate towards optimism. Or revenge. Against a rival, or sometimes, even against one’s weak self. Ja Morant’s tweet comes to mind: failure builds character. Not the first time someone has framed failure like this, but testament nonetheless to refusing to be deterred by failure. Nothing less is expected of him, and those with long years of health and fitness ahead of them. You have to try and try again, and train yourself to be relentless and undeterred.


Because some people see in failure the same obstacles, only bigger and bigger. You try to be better but you are not alone. You are not the only one who was defeated. Your adversaries are also changing and improving, becoming more and more capable of putting a more difficult challenge. Your adversaries change and so is the world around you and the conditions that influence your pursuit of athletic triumph. You’d think this is hopeless because there is no winning despite changing how you approach the game. But continue to battle and learn from people who find in failure the feeling that a corner has been turned. Getting there, but not there yet.

Everything about failure—as a word, a concept, a notion, an experience—has always been framed negatively. When we lose, those who seek to console us tell us not to think about it, that we should forget it, that we shouldn’t talk about it. Over time, our brains became hardwired to feel repulsed by failure. We look away thinking that by ignoring it, failure will simply wither or disappear. We think of failure as something filthy and disgusting. Don’t touch it. Don’t examine it.

Some see in failure frustration and fault-finding. But failure is not always a cause of torment and finger-pointing. Failure does not always come as a pall of gloom. Sometimes, failure can be a good thing. It is the door to introspection. It can be transformative and empowering. Failure is imperative. It is necessary sometimes.

Failure wears many faces. The one you see depends on where you are on your journey.

As a Chicago Bulls fan, I was excited at this year’s roster: finally, a winning unit. I know they will play well. I was so focused on savoring the games they will win, I didn’t account for the fact that they will still lose games—important games even.

I know they will be great when they are winning. But what will become of them in defeat?

What will the team—and us fans, too—see in failure?


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