Hiredesai: Sports as a guideline for failure

Annika Hiredesai, Columnist

My dad and I don’t have much in common when it comes to books, but we’ve always bonded over our love of a good sports memoir. Whether it’s someone we’ve been rooting for on TV for years or someone just arriving on the scene, we’ve always loved the dramatic arc of an athlete’s narrative. Reading about an epic championship victory, especially after a lifetime of hard work, gives us all a chance to feel like we’re a part of those surreal moments.

While the long-awaited success is the fairy-tale ending, it’s the difficult journey in between that makes these stories so gripping. When these extraordinary athletes stumble and falter, when they face seemingly abject failure, we feel most connected to them. Written with depth and emotion, there’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from struggle.

Unfortunately, the nuances of these moments are often lost in translation. From early in our childhoods, overcoming failure is often packaged into this oversimplified phrase: If you don’t succeed at first, try, try again. 

I’m writing this in the midst of midterm season, and I’ve found that this feeling of failure is something many of my peers and myself have often faced after a particularly rough exam. Seeing that score in the gradebook incites a queasy feeling; your insides feel like they’ve liquified, and there’s a strange numbness in your veins. It’s only after the doubts ㅡ about your capability, your intellect, your career path ㅡ come into focus that the hurt begins to set in. Failure is about more than just some grade on a test; it’s this jolting blow to our egos that, as college students, forces us to take a hard look at our current academic path.

I understand the temptation of finding a quick fix solution. Failure is one of the most jarring, painful experiences we face as humans. It’s natural to make every effort to disengage from it. Oftentimes, we end up coping by abstracting away from our emotions, putting our heads down, and blindly trudging forward. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, right?

Though there is value in showing resilience, these setbacks are more than just obstacles in our path. Maybe haphazardly trying over and over again worked when we were learning to ride a bike for the first time, but it’s a disastrous way of living an adult life. Failure is life forcing us to stop and reflect on the direction we’re headed in. By robbing ourselves of an opportunity to reflect, we stand in the way of our own success.

In sports, it’s never just about moving forwards or backwards. Athletes move laterally, jump vertically, pivot at the drop of a dime. If sports imitates life, we do ourselves a disservice by buying into the idea that blindly moving forward is our only option. Maybe you’ve outgrown an old dream and want to explore somewhere new. Maybe you’ve got other priorities right now and choose a less direct route. Maybe you’ve left something important behind and turn around to find it again. Whatever it may be, you owe yourself the space to reflect on your direction. Paths are never set in stone, and every good sports story has its fair share of twists and turns. Failure may be universal, but what comes next doesn’t have to be. Don’t settle for the predictable ending. Read the whole book. I promise it’s worth it.

Annika Hiredesai is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.