"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?"
Diana Nyad was 64 when she achieved her goal of swimming from Cuba to Florida, 110 miles. It was her fifth attempt since 1978; her fourth since turning 60. Each time she attempted the swim, she learned something new--about herself, about the conditions, about the kind of support she needed. Each time she failed, she learned something that would help her be more successful the next time.
There are those who believe she still has not succeeded, that she unfairly wore a mask and body suit to protect her from the jellyfish, that she swam too fast, that blah blah blah. There will always be skeptics when the seemingly insurmountable is surmounted.
September issue of National Geographic is titled "Famous Failures." Persistence. Resilience. In today's education space there are articles and studies about student grit, tenacity, and perseverance. It's curious to me that this American society--a culture that once proudly boasted of and honored "rugged individualism," that cherished and still occasionally recognizes American ingenuity--seems so often intent on schadenfreude.
Rather than celebrate the hard work of a successful venture, too many seem to want to cast aspersion. I suppose there are many things that drive that sort of mean-spirited behavior. Perhaps Diana Nyad didn't follow English Channel rules; that seems to be one of the complaints of the skeptics. Then again, she wasn't crossing the English Channel and she never claimed that she would follow those rules. Why is it so hard to say "Congratulations! Well done!" to someone who persevered to accomplish her dream? Who had supporters and encouragers to help her achieve that dream? Why must it be diminished?
Why can't this 64-year-old, who tried five times over 30+ years to complete this one task, be congratulated for what she did? That no one else has ever done? That others may try to do, and perhaps under English Channel rules because Diana Nyad has now established a benchmark.
You don't know until you try
We can learn from failure and we can learn from others' successes. In the National Geographic article, you can read about a failed Arctic balloon expedition. What has been learned from the degrees of success in each of those failures has led to remarkable technological innovations and learning about aviation and expedition in extreme conditions.
Everest climber Pete Athans says, “If you take away uncertainty, you take away motivation. Wanting to exceed your grasp is the nature of the human condition. There’s no magic to getting where we already know we can get.”