Recently, I caught an old speech Denzel Washington gave to some very fortunate graduates. I don’t know what it is about him, but I find him mesmerizing. He began his speech by assuring the graduates they would fail and probably more times than they would like. While it’s not the way a typical commencement speech would start, he was 100% right. He spoke to his audience about persevering through failures and shared how Thomas Edison conducted a hundred failed experiments before the 101st experiment worked. That 101st experiment was the light bulb. He spoke about his 1.8 GPA and then a recent performance in a theater where he performed the play Fences. Thirty years prior, he bombed an audition in that very same theater. That is what I call a full-circle life moment. He urged the graduates to continue to try, to never give up and to fall. And, when they do, fall forward. I love this phrase. It spoke to me and, as it turns out, I have been falling forward my entire life. I don’t know if it is because I am a first-born and we are designed to thrive in adversity or the fact that nothing scares me so much that I won’t try, but this is a message everyone needs to hear.
So here is the deal, we all need to be willing to try and to fail and, when we do, fall forward. We have momentum on our side when we fall this way. Hear me out. These failed attempts are the very things that mold us as people. I don’t know about you, but I have fallen, fortunately forward, more times then I can count, and, thus far, I am good with my path and the person I have developed into.
One of my first fall forward moments occurred when I didn’t make the 7th grade volleyball team. Small potatoes but, back then, a poignant moment for me. I believe it was that very first failure that put me on my path to find out what I was really good at from an athletic perspective. Soon, I would be picked to play on the area’s first elite soccer team. (I am old and back then there were no club teams.) I went on to earn a pretty hefty scholarship to play soccer and then, later that same year, have it revoked. It isn’t one of my proudest moments but it is a moment I own and it is a moment that I needed to experience to build character and grit. In hindsight, I wasn’t supposed to be there. That was not my path.
The day the revocation of my scholarship appeared in the mail was an important day. It was the day I chose to fall forward. That very persistence and willingness to push on was the thing that brought me so much more than I would have ever received had I quit. My ego was bruised and my self worth was up for discussion, but I said “nope.” I wasn’t ready for someone else to decide my path. So, I took it on the chin and kept fighting. I took a year to regroup and the following year I went to Eastern Illinois University with a second chance and another scholarship. I earned a starting spot as an outside defender on a Division I soccer team. My situation had come full-circle and I was now exactly where I was supposed to be. And that, my friends, is the point of this blog.
It is a part of the human condition to experience triumphs and failures. How are we going to respond to those moments? How do we choose to react? You know how now. It is all in the fall. And it is in the direction of the fall that is your choice. That is the part you can control. Failures are inevitable as long as you put yourself out there, but the choice in which direction you fall, that is all on you. Don’t be afraid. Follow your heart. Fear nothing and, when you fall, because you will, fall forward.
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