The Olympics Remind Us; All Athletes are Failures

James Swan Coaching All Athletes are Failures

Last week I wrote a few words positioning forgiveness as a starting point in my journey from a catastrophic face-plant to a fresh, new chapter in life. And this week, in both my work with coaching clients and in comments shared from readers, the topic of failure recovery has been top-of-mind.

Then the Olympics kicked off, and the parade of dazzling, gold-tinged successes began marching across my monitors. Who doesn’t love a winner, right!

The exciting thing about sports is that there is a pile of highly trained athletes who fail to take the top spot for every winner. The quantity of failures is vastly larger than winners.


Athletes know a thing or two about recovering. They know the practical steps to prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually so they are ready to compete one more time. They know what “never giving up” looks and feels like.

For me, it started with a hefty dose of self-forgiveness and then practical, tangible actions that prepared me for a future beyond my imagination.

In reflecting on the past three to four years, I identified five activities that prepared me for life I am living today. I will dive into one each for the next few weeks. Here’s my list of action steps.

  1. My “If/Then” Journal
  2. Take Ownership
  3. Circle the Wagons/Build Your Team
  4. Serve, Serve, Serve
  5. Move Some Bricks

Your “If/Then” Journal

But you say, my life feels too shattered to keep a journal. 

And I say when you are struggling after a significant setback or failure is the perfect time to stay connected to your passions, hopes, and dreams.

I know. It took me months, and in one case almost three years, to reconnect with some of the passions that make me unique. Once I permitted myself to connect things I had come to believe were “off-limits,” the most amazing thing happened. Like jumpstarting a dead battery, my former passions, hopes, and dreams came to life and were supercharged with new and wiser insights.

I am still smiling from some of those re-awakened connections and walk in daily gratitude for the infusion of new energy. I feel limitless.

So, try this.

Keep a list that, on a daily or even moment-by-moment basis, answers the question, “If (blank) had not happened, then I would still be (blank).

Fill in the first blank with the life situation you face that is holding you back or causing your concern or pain. For instance, “if I had not been fired,” or “if my partner had not left me,” or “if I had not made that poor investment, “…etc. 

Next, fill in the second blank with the activity you would still be doing, like, “I would still be employed,” or “I would still be married,” or “I would still have money to invest.”

Keep adding to your “If/Then” Journal for as long as you are processing things causing you pain or frustration in your life.

Days, weeks, or months later, when you are ready to plan your next great project or endeavor, this compilation will be used to jumpstart your answer to the question, “what should I do next.”

We often reference the “If/Then” Journal when working with my coaching clients. It won’t solve your problems, but it becomes a resource for things in life that hold meaning, despite the setback you are moving through now.

Your “If/Then” Journal offers seeds of possibility, reminding you that there is Life After Failure.

Complimentary Coaching Conversation

After a public shaming over a business mistake, I lost everything. Over the next four years, I fought my way back to hope, joy, and a vision for the future. Today, my mission is to help others who, just like me, had been knocked to the ground by personal or professional failure.

Each month, I create a handful of opportunities to show up for hurting individuals who are serious about radically changing their life. I provide judgment-free conversation that helps you stop feeling like a failure.

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