I’m Natalie and if you know anything about me you’ll know that I’m a swimmer and when I thought about what to write about for my last word, I thought about all the different life lessons that I’ve learnt and how they’ve impacted my life. I quickly realised that everything I’ve learnt, I learnt from swimming and seeing as according to my friends, swimming is pretty much my life, I’m going to talk about my experience last week at swimming nationals.
Over the second week of the holidays, I spent a week competing in Hamilton. Prior to this competition I had set very specific goals that I wanted to achieve. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a very competitive person because I definitely am. I do set very high standards for myself and most of the time they are quite literally unattainable. This leads into the lesson that I have had to learn the hard way countless times in the last few years about the definition of success and failure.
Success - the state of living and working according to our values.
Failure - the state of living and working in a way that isn’t aligned with our values.
These are pretty generic definitions, as they allow us to personally define success so we can know whether or not we have failed.
In my case, to cut a very long story short, I didn’t end up achieving my goal that I was so focused on. When I finished my race, I jumped out of the pool and walked straight past my coach, into the warm down pool, put my goggles back on and cried. I decided to quite literally drown in my tears. I had put so much pressure on myself to achieve my goal. When I finally stopped being a sore loser and got over myself, I went and had a talk with a teammate who knew how badly I wanted to achieve this goal. He reminded me that the only person who was looking at me as a failure was myself. From so many other people's perspective I hadn’t failed at all, in fact quite the opposite. Coming 6th instead of 3rd in New Zealand by 2 tenths of a second felt like the end of the world. Looking back on it now, I realise how screwed my definitions of failure and success were at that moment.
At age 17 you would think I would have got my act together by now but apparently not. The problem isn't the fact that I didn’t get the result I wanted, it was how I was choosing to define success. What I had to realise is that what I define success as may not be the same as someone else and vice versa. I watched a guy that’s won so many national titles win yet another national title and still feel dissatisfied.
I know everyone in this room has felt like they’ve failed at some point and regardless of whether you would ever admit it to yourself, everyone sets high expectations for themselves in some area of their lives. These expectations can be influenced by the people you surround yourself with whether that be your family or friends and in my case I just wanted to feel like I had succeeded. In order to do this, I needed to redefine success around what I valued.
Defining success around what you value gives you control. It puts you, not your coach or anyone else in control of whether you succeed or fail. It allows you to work towards success in an authentic way. Of course you may not be able to live and work in a way that aligns to your values all of the time but when you can't at least you'll know you tried to. This definition may also allow us to find success in situations where traditionally you would be regarded as having failed.
Redefining success and failure to a values-based definition is about minimizing failure and maximizing success. Redefining success gives us the opportunity to lower the bar of perfection, step away from the influence of the world and people around us and find success in an important skill in accordance with what you value. So next time you’re feeling the sting of failure please ask yourself whether you really did fail or whether your definition of success just isn’t realistic. You might just find that looking at things through this lens highlights some success you might have otherwise overlooked!