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Every Tuesday, I write.

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The odds of failure


At the beginning of this year, I set one hell of a physical challenge goal: to run one half-marathon each month in 2009.

This was certainly a feat, even for more accomplished runners. The distance itself wasn't impossible, even with all the training runs I'd need to do. Traveling to races, registering for them, planning out the schedule – it was a task that would demand more than putting mileage on some running shoes.

I've had the chance so far this year to run through Times Square and over the Golden Gate Bridge. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck have cheered me on. I ran to music in Nashville and down cold Birmingham streets. I've run nine races so far, one each month.

But I won't run in October. I will not meet my goal.

In justifying my physical challenge (and encouraging my readers to make one), I concluded that the point of a physical challenge may be in the sheer audacity of it to begin with. I chided traditional new year's resolutions for being too vague and distracting. If your goal is to lose weight, making a huge physical challenge is great – even if you only live up to half of it, you've still done something monumental.

I've run nine half-marathons this year (and I'll run at least one more - I hope). That, combined with all of my training runs, means I'll cover more than 750 miles this year on foot. A small stress fracture will prevent me from running in Atlanta this coming weekend, causing me to fall short of my physical challenge goal.

Of course, in a very raw sense, this is failure. Not meeting expectations (ours or theirs) in any world (business or personal) looks like (on paper) a whopping failure. Close is good, but in many cases for many people, it doesn't count. At least not like succeeding does. Therefore, we need to be careful to define failure for ourselves.

We need to realize when we didn't accomplish something and be motivated to try better next time. But we also need to realize that attempting something great is worthy of respect, and falling short is proof that you fought. There are far too many critics who never get in the game to begin with. And while their voices are loud, we must not let their words become anything more than the chatter we block out when focusing.

There's a fine line between quitting and failing. Both may be the opposite of success, but only one is the mortal enemy of accomplishment. After all, both indifference and hate are different than love, but indifference is love's true foe, fighting against it at every opportunity.

Failure leaves your hands calloused, your body tired, and it might even bring you a scar or two. If nothing else, scars make for good bar stories. Quitting - while it means you'll keep your hands clean and skin blemish-free - never makes you more interesting at parties. It never brings wisdom (which only comes from experience). But most of all, it never even gives you a chance at success.

When I registered for 12 half-marathons, what were my odds of doing all of them? 2:1? 10:1? I don’t know what the odds makers in Vegas thought, but the odds are always higher when you try something. The odds when you quit are always zero.

Beating the odds is difficult, and in that sense, quitters never win. People who try – even if they fail – at least are changing the odds for success.

Don't worry about beating the odds – change them.

Photo by Bah Humbug

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