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2021: defined by failure.

I am a big fan of Twitter for professional and personal development, I think it is essentially a free educational tool. Provided you are following the right people, you are filling your timeline up with some great content and if you are engaging with the content in your timeline, you are filling your brain up with great ideas - it can be hugely beneficial for your own growth. Something that really caught my eye this week was this:

A Twitter thread that stood out for me this week. As Jo Clubb (@JoClubbSportSci) says, it is refreshing to see someone detail their failures for a change.

We are all very used looking at the great achievements that people share on social media. Martin Bucheitt and Tim Pelot have spoken about it at length, many social media updates are posted to stroke egos rather than actually have a meaningful impact on others. This is something I have been guilty of this year, on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, and here are some of my own ego-boosting social media posts from the last few months:

What did these posts serve? Yes they informed people of my achievements, but is anyone else better off because they have seen this? No. This is solely an ego-boosting social media post, posting for likes, posting for attention, however best to phrase it. It is absolutely important to share your work. If you walk into a shop, you can't buy anything that isn't displayed on the shelf. When you log on to social media, you can't buy or invest time into anything if it isn't displayed on your timeline. But there is a difference between sharing your work and sharing your achievements. I have shared some of the work I have done practically and some of my coursework from my MSc and PGCE, or some of the insights I have developed over time on this site. This is much more beneficial for me and others - it stimulates an open dialogue and it has been the biggest positive since I started writing on this site and sharing my work. The social media posts above, they don't achieve that.

Recently, there has been a lot of attention on High Performance Training for Sports version 2 on Twitter especially. This is an example of a resource that has been designed to help others. The collection of some of the greatest minds within the world of sports performance within 400 pages of work. It really is an outstanding resource. Any social media post from the authors is designed to share their work for the betterment of others. This is how social media (in any industry or field) should be used - not to brag or boost personal egos; not to belittle or berate, but to spread positivity and promote good practice. To quote AfterLife:

"Good people do good things for others. That's it, the end."

I would like to share some of the failures I have had in the past year, some of the things that have changed my path or caused me to rethink my strategy. It's all well and good having achievements, but meaningful achievements don't come without a solid foundation of effort. If it is easy, it won't be worthwhile. If it's worthwhile, it won't be easy.

My three most significant failures from 2021:

  • At the beginning of this year (in the middle of a 3 week hotel quarantine, no less), I was informed that I was being "let go". This was not wholly unexpected given the global pandemic and the impact that has had on businesses all around the world, but it is still never overly nice to be told your services are no longer required, no matter how kindly the message was delivered.

  • Just before I returned to Ireland from Hong Kong to Ireland, I interviewed for a full time S&C role in Ireland. The timing could not have been better - I was coming home anyway, I would have walked straight from one job to the next with no employment gap. Also, the role itself was fantastic, working at the development level, full-time, working with top class people. It really was a great opportunity. I did the interview online over zoom and it went reasonably well, but it turned out I was unsuccessful. I placed 3rd out of 100+ applicants, which isn't bad, but no one applies for jobs to not get the job. Another one of my bigger failures from the year.

  • The day I left Hong Kong to come home to Ireland an job posting came up for a job at home. It was a sports scientist role, very similar to the role I had done in Hong Kong. This role was even more perfect than the previous role I applied for! I had experience at the same level, in the same sport, using the same technology. It didn't involve an international relocation specifically for the role as I was coming home anyway. And the money was more than ok. I was offered an interview over zoom, which included a 15 minute task. I prepared well for the interview, even got some help from Dan Howells (@collab_sports). I rated it as the best interview I have done - the timing of the task was spot on (14 mins and 30 seconds), I was comfortable answering every question the panel asked, and I got some really positive feedback on the day from the interview panel. However, again, it turned out to be unsuccessful. Possibly even more disappointing given that I felt I performed so well.

Three of my most significant failures from the past 15 years, and the playform these failure presented me:

  • In 2009, my Leaving Cert didn't go as well as I wanted it to go. But it probably went as well as I expected it to go. I didn't get my first choice of Sports Science in UL, or my 2nd, 3rd, or 4th choice. Instead I got my 5th choice or Sports Science in AIT (now TUS). As I was part of the first cohort in Sports Science at that university, there were very few links to sporting clubs or organisations to do a work placement in. This meant I had to network a lot more to get a placement in elite sport, and I was successful in landing one at the Western Australian Institute of Sport.

  • In 2016, I went for an interview in Croke Park, Dublin, for a Hurling Development role in New York (dream stuff). The interview went well, presentation went smoothly and I engaged in some good conversation with the interview panel afterwards. A couple of days later, I was informed I didn't get the role. Disappointing stuff, given the opportunity, getting to travel to the US and develop my coaching craft. But it wasn't to be. The following week I got a call to ask if I was interested in going over to Hong Kong for a 10 week Gaelic Football coaching stint within schools in Hong Kong. I had to check to see where exactly Hong Kong was, but I went for it, and this began a unique chain of events that has ultimately led me to where I am today.

  • Later In 2016, I had another failed interview experience, this time at the GWS Giants in Sydney. I was interviewing for their 12 month internship program. I was currently based in Hong Kong and I was interning with the Hong Kong Rugby Union at the time. I had missed out the previous year on the Giants internship (I didn't even get an interview), and all I wanted to do was get a place on this internship program and build my career in sports performance from there. Again, the interview went smoothly, presentation was on time, and I engaged in good conversation with the panel, even getting a good laugh from them when suggesting the choice of carbohydrate in Hong Kong (mainly rice) was different to the choice of carbohydrate back in Ireland (spuds). I got a call a couple of days letter to say I wasn't being selected, and the feedback was that I was competent, but not confident enough. Another disappointing call to get, but the benefits of this did not become clear until years after. I was able to display a huge commitment and endurance in one organisation and I was able to build a sports science programme from scratch, something I would not habe had the opportunity to do in many other places.

An accurate visual representation of my path (and indeed everyone's path) this year. Credit Tim Urban via Peter Tierney on Twitter.

All three of these examples, while not positive experiences, guided me to a path I am grateful and fortunate to be on. I applied for my PGCE and got accepted within days, and 1 month later I was in Huddersfield training to be a secondary physical education teacher. But ultimately, this only happened because I failed at other things. But I would ask the question:

In my opinion, a key characteristic in the development of resilience is how people deal with failure. Failure in the moment is not nice (depending on how invested you are in any particular pursuit, it could be a horrible experience), but persepective is so key. I am working with adolescents now and resilience is a vital skill to learn. But it applies to people of all ages, cultivating resilience is a lifelong process, and having the ability to zoom out within the heat of battle is a skill to master. Below I share to extracts from The Road to Character by David Brooks:

Extracts from The Road to Character, by David Brooks.

I don't really do new year's resolutions, they turn out much like my attempts at fantasy football - I am invested for 2-3 weeks then I lose interest. But something I will be much more aware of moving forward is my relationship to failure, not just in 2022 but beyond. What silver lining do the clouds bring? What opportunities for growth exist within this defeat? Can this setback be the foundation for better things? Here is hoping that 2022 brings more failures, and that I can have the wherewithal to make the most of every single one. And if I fail to respond positively to a failure, then I'm sure with appropriate space and distance and perspective, I will learn from that too.


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