Failure, An Amazing Teacher

I’m competitive in shotgun sports, and have enjoyed shooting clay pigeons for more than 10 years. Three years ago the shooting club in Reno closed, and so to did my obsession of shooting multiple times a week. Lately, my shooting outings have only happen a couple of times a year at most, usually with friends at a club in the Nevada desert, or on a hunt for the elusive Nevada Chukar.

I asked some of my regular shooting friends if they wanted to take the forty minute drive to the nearest shotgun club last weekend and spend the morning remembering what we loved about this sport. All of them agreed, so with guns and ammo loaded we drove ourselves into what promised to be a great day.

It was, punctuated for me by a reminder that rings true in so many life lessons. We started by shooting skeet, a great game that involves shooting single and double clays from different stands. After two rounds of shooting, I had a perfect score of 50/50. I was proud and surprised. While I had pulled off perfect skeet rounds in the past, I had not expected to do it after a couple of years away from shooting this game.

Next we decided to try our skills at trap shooting, single clays that run away from the shooters at different angles. Another perfect score really surprised me as I’ve never been a serious trap shooter. We decided to wrap our day up with one more trap round and I was silently proud as I currently was scoring 75/75.

As you can guess, I missed a bird in this final round, specifically the 91st. This blog is not about dropping the bird, which seems symbolic for the things all of us do in many areas of our lives, but about the reaction to being short of perfect. We all make mistakes, or come just sort of perfection in a million unique ways, but what we do when it happens is the important part.

When I was shooting frequently, missing a bird that close to the end of a perfect day would have sent me over the edge. Cursing myself, I would have allowed the negative feelings to impact my next nine birds, virtually guaranteeing that I would miss more than just that one. Needlessly missing more birds would have sent me further into a post shooting disappointment.

On this day, I laughed. What a great day we were having, how amazing was it that I hit 90 clays in a row after years of imposed retirement, and how comical was it that I might consider getting mad at this effort. I thought about how I missed the shot (no idea, it felt perfect), learned what I could (relax, forget about it) and happily crushed the last 9 clays.

I’ve come a long way around to simply say that you will fail, either subtly or with grand fashion. You will get some snickers from your friends or spears and arrows from your not so friendly work mates. If we can remember that it’s not the failure that defines us, or clarifies how we are viewed by those around us, but it is our reaction to the failure that is important.

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