You only fail when you stop trying


For Michael Coen this was a pivotal moment in his summer. And for myself it was a great lesson in perseverance and not letting failure get in your way.

It was a big day. The sun was shining in North Carolina as we walked down to the lake for our Water Skiing Test. I was a camp councillor at an American Summer Camp working alongside an American Colleague.

This test meant a lot the 12 boys we were working work. If they passed the test they’d get to leave the camp site and go wake boarding in a beautiful lake in South Carolina. Something they’d been looking forward to all summer.

For most of the boys that grey up on the coast of Florida, this was a routine exercise to demonstrate they knew how to waterski.

One by one they got in the water and did the 3 laps of the small lake required to pass the test. A couple of the boys fell off the ski’s a few times and got back up to the encouragement of the others to try again. And sure enough, they did it in the end.

Apart from Michael. He really struggled with water sports and knew this would be a challenge. He was a quieter character than the other and didn’t have to overzealous American confidence that some of the boys did.

He entered the water with slight trepidation and gave it his best shot. But after 7 tries, he only managed 3/4’s a of a lap and was the only person to climb out of the water feeling demoralised and ashamed of failing. The promise of a trip away had gone. The voices and jeers of the other 12 years old started to echo as we took a slow walk back up the hill to our cabin.

Later that day my co-councillor Luke called me over. ‘Andy, we’re going back to the lake in our Dinner Break to give Michael another shot at it, are you okay to come along?’

Part of me had conceded defeat for Michael, but as Luke suggested we gave it another shot, my optimism and determination kicked back in. We desperately wanted him to do it.

We were back on the speed boat and Michael was in the water. After an inspiring conversation and our reassurance voices of belief he was ready for another go.

His first attempt he got up onto the water but quickly came crashing down. His second attempt was much better and he did almost a full lap of the lake. But his third attempt he fell again. The momentum had gone. He look to Luke and swam towards to boat to climb out.

“It’s no good. I won’t be able to do it. I’ve failed”.

Luke then said a few words that made all the difference.

“Michael, you are so close. But more importantly, you haven’t failed yet. You only fail when you stop trying. We are here because we know you can do this. Get back in there and give it another shot. Really focus, be strong and you’ll get it. Take a deep breath and let’s do this. We’re with you”.

He nodded and affirmed Luke’s words whilst concentrating on not inhaling too much water.

This was it.

Hands on the bar, he got in position. We really wanted him to do it and there wasn’t much time left.

His next attempt he did 1 lap and only just fell in after nearly rescuing his balance.

The second attempt he did it, 3 laps with an assured confidence. We pulled him out of the water and greeted him with double high fives in true American style. He was tired but so happy.

Our walk back up to the cabin Luke made sure than Michael knew what a great achievement this was. To show him he has the kind of character than didn’t let failure stop him. That he was prepared to get back in the water and do what it took.

And for myself. Luke really showed me how important it is to show belief in people when they can’t quite see it in themselves. And when it comes down to it take people down to the water and give them another chance.

This is a great lesson that has stayed with me, that you only fail when you stop trying.

So whatever you are working towards, or whatever goal you have, if your haven’t achieved it yet, get back in the water and make it happen.

Thanks to Luke and Michael

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