Courage to fail

This time last week I was licking my wounds. I did not pass a weekend course in advanced wilderness and remote first aid. It might have been the early morning starts. It might have been the impersonal feedback from the instructors. It might have been that I was “off” those days. It might have been the conflicting feedback I felt I was receiving. But the bottom line is the same, whatever the reason.

I failed. And it’s no one’s fault by my own. 

The instructors were fantastic: they knew what they were doing; they were clear and practical; they responded to the needs of the group and reorganized the end of the course to give more of us a chance to land what we were learning. I fully trust their assessment of what they saw in my performance. I did not show them what I knew.

I did not show them what they needed to see because I was too afraid to ask them what they were not seeing from me. I didn’t want to hear about what I was doing wrong. In not asking, I could pretend with myself that it wasn’t happening. Who knows – maybe I was doing just enough to pass?

The other truth is that, when honest with myself, I wasn’t surprised to have not passed. I was a bit confused because of some conflicting feedback, but I knew deep down inside that this was a fair assessment. I chose not to fight and complain. I chose not to argue and debate my way into a pass. I chose not to pick at their teaching methodology, either with them or to others or myself. I chose instead to notice my own personal failure.

I did not have the courage to ask for personalized feedback.

Here’s what I think happened. I’m a confident person and for whatever reason, my confidence escaped me. There were some basic steps we needed to take in our scenarios and for whatever reason, I lost track of these steps. They are very simple and clear, yet I did them in the wrong order, or would forget about them. I improved, got close, but didn’t make these steps routine in response to emergency scenarios. I was wobbly.

In hindsight, I was partly distracted. I wasn’t fully there, in the details, and this is a detail world. More and more, I find myself living and working with less and less attention to the details. The plot is what counts, not the specifics. Yet I didn’t recognize that this was a detail world; I needed to have made the shift. In these details that are not a regular part of my life, and in a learning environment where there is a clear right and wrong, I was out of my element. I struggled.

I did not admit – to myself and others – that I was struggling. 

And while I have the courage here – publicly and yet still quite anonymously – to say I failed myself, I did not have the courage in the moment to ask for what I needed. Even in highlighting my failure here, I feel more comfortable than asking for personalized feedback there.

I was no longer in a place where I could pretend I knew what I was doing. And it caught up to me.


The failure was not the course – I came away knowing a lot more about wilderness and remote first aid. I didn’t pass, but I came with much more knowledge. This, truly, was my objective. I don’t need to have the card, or the credential.

When I was told I did not pass, I was also told that I could come back free of charge in a few months to try again. This is evidence of how great the instructors are; they want us to know this stuff. It isn’t about how much money they are going to make.

I’ve had fleeting thoughts about not going back, since I don’t need to, but I recognize this as my hurt ego talking. If I truly want to know this stuff, I will go back. (And I do, after two helicopter rides with loved ones after they’ve hurt themselves in the backcountry. The first was with my brother, when we learned about survival systems. The second this last summer with my husband. )

My objective:

Be honest with myself in front of others when I’m wobbly. If I want to learn, I have to summon the self confidence I need to ask for feedback. 

This means I have to have the courage to fail in front of others. Explicitly. If my goal is to learn something, I need to have the courage to admit that I don’t know something. And to ask for the feedback I need – about what others see I don’t know. This is a kind of confidence that comes with revealing what I don’t know, or can’t do, or in asking for what I don’t know, or can’t do.

I’m learning about things I didn’t expect to learn at this wilderness course. I’m learning, once again, about the wilderness in me.

That’s a pass.


5 thoughts on “Courage to fail”

  1. Ah, Beth, a valuable lesson for us all. Learning to be honest with myself at all times is one of my great challenges. Thank you for sharing- it inspires me to try harder. BTW, I just finished Red Hot and Holy- a kick ass book about self-honesty as well!

    1. Yes, Red Hot and Holy is a kick ass book! It was recommended to me at a time of great tension last year, along with the role of Kali as a force of destruction. Things coming apart don’t have to result in bad things, despite what we think… I think find it hardest to notice the little times I’m not honest with myself… Learning how to learn still, I guess.

  2. Your courage to be so honest and vulnerable in writing this is encouragement for all of us. What a powerful lesson and it could be any one of us…it is, indeed, humbling. Thank you for showing the way to fail gracefully 😉 Much love to you. GG

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