6 hours. That’s how long it took me to drive home. Total silence the whole journey; I couldn’t even face listening to the radio. Earlier that morning, I had shaken hands and said goodbye to my friends and training staff at Commando Training Centre, Royal Marines in Lympstone near Exmouth and began the long drive home to Lancashire.
I had withdrawn from Officer training that day. After 2 years of effort to initially get accepted on to the notoriously difficult and extremely selective course, I then had another 2 years in the Corps. During this time, I suffered a traumatic shoulder dislocation early on, followed by surgery and 9 long months of rehab before rejoining training. Upon rejoining, all was initially going well but as time progressed, I started to get a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. I was not enjoying my work and my performance and motivation was waning. That nagging voice eventually became a scream and I knew I was at an impasse. Stay and force my way through something which felt increasingly unnatural or leave and step into the unknown.
The nature of the work I was involved in meant that 100% commitment and dedication was essential – I was to be responsible for lives in combat zones – anything less was an insult to every Royal Marine who had gone before me and I knew it. With that knowledge in mind, I took the decision to leave. It was and still is the hardest decision I have ever had to make. It had taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears to reach the stage that I had and when I arrived home I was a broken man. I had no idea what I was going to do.
I blamed myself for being weak. Lazy. Not good enough. For a long time, I agonised over my decision. I stopped training, drank and smoked as often as I could and tried to show the world that I didn’t care when in reality I was floundering.
If you’re still reading, that’s the end of me feeling sorry for myself, I promise. Let’s get to the point. I had failed, monumentally and completely. I’d set myself a major life goal and dedicated years to achieving it and I had fallen short.
However, what I didn’t realise at the time was that I had done myself a huge favour. It took a lot of strength of character to fail hard (I’ll try not to inflate my own ego too much). I had looked myself in the eye and been brutally honest rather than perpetuate a lie. Had I not been true to myself and faced failure, I would have spent years of my life doing something which made me unhappy.
Failing hard has taught me a few very important lessons. First of all, be brutally honest with yourself. It is ESSENTIAL to admit to it when we screw up/make a bad decision/do something we shouldn’t have. Being brutally honest with ourselves helps us to identify our mistakes. If we don’t identify them, we are ignoring a golden opportunity and in my experience, we always get found out in the end. Take your failures, analyse them and improve.
Secondly and of equal importance, don’t blame yourself or anyone else for failure. Accept failure for what it is; human nature and the path to improvement. If you take one thing away from this article, I hope it is this: I started to feel way better both about myself and other people when I started to accept that we all fail regularly and in a myriad of different ways. This altered perspective is an ongoing process and one which I will probably never master but recognising its value is a great start. Whilst clearly failure is not desirable, recognising it as completely natural and doing something positive about it is desirable. It is also the quickest way to achieve progress towards our goals.
Since I left the Royal Marines in 2014, I have been through a few jobs, learning a few more times that I wasn’t heading in the direction I wanted to be and made changes, failing, assessing and adjusting. Thankfully, I can now say I find myself in a job where I can see my future clearly. I have quit smoking, starting training hard again, took up obstacle course racing (OCR) and managed to secure a place on the Suffering Legends Elite race team. I’ve since moved away from OCR after a couple of good years, once again learning that it wasn’t quite right for me, accepting it and moving on. I’m now training and competing in powerlifting. I’ve bought a house, met my girlfriend and we’ve moved in together to name a few things.
Isn’t life funny? In all likelihood, if I had not failed hard and learnt my lessons, I would still be scratching my head feeling sorry for myself and none of these positive changes and wonderful life experiences would have come about.
To round this off, no matter what life looks like now, there are always positives to come. We can always grow as individuals and our attitude to failure is a key component in how quickly this change will come about.
Now get out there and start failing. You’ll be glad you did.
‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed
‘Antifragile’ by Nicholas Nassim Taleb
‘Ego is the Enemy’ by Ryan Holiday