Landing Fail! And Why Failure is the Best Way To Win

“If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try skydiving.”

Funny, yes. But if it were true, I’d have been dead long ago. That’s because I’m a slow learner. Whereas some lucky people have the ability to pick things up with ease, I’m the type to eat Campbell’s noodle soup straight out of the can before I learn to cook a real meal. Seriously, ask my roommate.

That being the case, I do have one area in which I excel – a tool that was drilled into me during my stint in the Canadian Army: tolerance for misery. Highlight that, for the power to push through hardship is what allows even the slowest of learners to win with time. So what business does a slow learner have in skydiving, anyway?

Counter-intuitive as it is, extreme sports may very well be the best arena in which to fail responsibly – Bear with me on this one.

In any extreme sport, there is an elevated risk of harm to the athlete. This is great. It forces us to deconstruct the sport and build it back up, brick by brick. Beginning with the mechanics, let’s ask, “What is the 20% of effort that causes 80% of our results?” This analysis, known as Pareto’s law, applies throughout the spectrum of human endeavor – from athletics, to business, to relationships and self-development. Applied to skydiving, the standard arch position teaches us the primary mechanics of free fall. In snowboarding, we navigate the use of heel-to-toe pressure. In martial arts, we establish base, structure, and posture, while preventing our opponent from doing the same. In competitive hot dog eating, we squeeze the air out of the bun to maximize the space in our bellies (… makes sense, I guess).

Take your time and master the basic mechanics of your jump. While the percentages may vary, seek out the 20% of routine and drill that are responsible for 80% of your net results. Doing so will maximize the benefit of practice you put in, while eliminating the energy-consuming stuff that gets you nowhere – at least in the beginning. Rather quickly, you’ll realize that you’re not such a slow learner after all. Remember: slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

That said, failure is still an essential part of learning. So the question becomes how best to fail? On my 21st skydive, I landed in a cornfield far from the drop zone. Having already jumped earlier in the day, I didn’t bother to reassess the wind activity. Moreover, I outstayed my welcome in free fall, opening my chute too late to compensate for the increased wind speed. Under canopy, I looked far into the distance. There, I could see my intended target: the drop zone. My instructors stood by with binoculars. I imagine they let out a sigh as they watched my flight unfold.

It was no use; I’d never be able to reach them. Taking a brief moment to reflect, I realized, “Now is the time to fail responsibly.” My training kicked in as I chose a field below, free of obstruction, and entered into my landing pattern. Corn doesn’t provide the most comfortable cushioning, but in any case, I came down relatively safe and sound.

Bottom line: Failure can and should be quantified. There’s a difference between landing off-target, and failing so hard that you can’t get back up again. Failing responsibly means taking control of the failure. When it became apparent that a typical drop zone landing was no longer in the cards, I did as taught and changed the plan. I found a safe spot to land, and executed swiftly. What I didn’t do was shoot for the drop zone, and hit a highway, power line, or tree in the process. No, instead, I owned my failure. I was determined to learn all that I could from it, so as to avoid similar situations in the future. Suddenly, my failure wasn’t a failure at all.

When you fail responsibly, you succeed.

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About the Author

· Founder of LifeAbove (www.LifeAbove.com)

· McGill Law School Graduate

· Former Canadian Armed Forces Infantry Reservist

· A-License Skydiver