Why Failure is our Friend

signpostFailure is our friend.

I know this is may sound like an oxymoron, but I can guarantee you it’s important – especially for me.

You see, by all outward means I’m very successful.

I’ve got an amazing family, with the most awesome wife imaginable and two beautiful kiddos.

I’m running two successful fitness businesses – one online, and one offline.

I’m the performance coach for a professional soccer team.

So why on Earth am I writing about failure?

It’s simple – because at this time last year, I was not failing enough. And that was holding me back!

It’s funny, watching your children grow up, we challenge them and ask them to fail constantly.

Kade is learning to walk and even if he only gets to his feet and takes a single step, we’re clapping and cheering for him.

Kendall is in all sorts of different activities as well. Whether it’s putting her face in the water in swimming, learning how to skip in gymnastics, or simply participating and having fun in soccer, we’re constantly praising her for her efforts.

So why on Earth do we stop doing this as we get older?

Obviously we don’t need a standing ovation every time we try something new, or get the slightest bit outside of our comfort zone.

But if you aren’t pushing yourself to be a better human being, or asking yourself some of the tough questions in life, what are you so damn afraid of?

Why Do We Fear Failure?

I feel our egos are one of the biggest reasons we end up fearing failure, or at the very least, not pushing ourselves as much as we should.

The ego is such a frail thing. One minute we’re on top of the world, and the next we’re hunched over in the corner, sucking our thumbs.

And before you assume that this is only reserved to mere mortals such as ourselves, I can tell you that some of the most elite athletes in the world aren’t nearly as confident as they may outwardly appear.

Beyond the fragility of our own egos, we can also get caught up in the lie that is success.

Now success to everyone is different. I’d like to think that I’m fairly successful in many areas of my life.

But that success is also blinding in some regards. Or at the very least, too warm and cozy.

It’s easy to say, “Well, I’m successful so I don’t need to challenge myself anymore. I don’t need to go outside of my own comfort zone. I’ve already made it.”

And as a result, we end up limiting our own potential. It’s like willfully putting yourself in a box, or putting a cap on what you’re capable of.

Yes, you absolutely are successful – but how successful could you be?

What amazing things could you accomplish, if you continued to strive for success and no longer fear failure?

Now some of you may be thinking, “Well I’m not afraid – I challenge and push myself.”

So here’s the next question to ask: How much are you really pushing yourself?

Are you pushing your way forward, millimeter-by-millimeter?

Or are you really putting yourself out there? Ready, willing and able to fall flat on your face?

This was me, just a few short months ago. I was lying to myself on a daily basis, saying that I was pushing myself and trying to grow.

And maybe I was – but not nearly enough.

This next section is one part therapy for me, and hopefully, one part instructive for you. Here are just a handful of examples that I’ve been thinking about, and ways that I’ve tried to get out of my own comfort zone.

#1 – Shifting the Focus of RTS

Whether you’ve noticed it or not, Robertson Training Systems has seen a slow but steady evolution over the years.

My writing and creative ventures have always been reflective of where I’m at in life, and what I’m focused on.

When I first started writing, I was competing in powerlifting, and my writing reflected that. Everything was focused on the big lifts, and how to eek out some gains via smarter programming or improved technique.

As I got into the world of corrective exercise and improving movement efficiency, that was a goal and focus. I loved learned about anatomy, and using that knowledge to make us more awesome.

And now as I’ve come full circle back into the world of physical preparation, you’re seeing a mix of topics covered on the site – speed, strength, conditioning, various sports, nutrition, recovery, etc.

The goal and focus of RTS is to become the epicenter for athletes and coaches alike who want to get the most out of their performance.

Another aspect of this shift was getting back into podcasting. In the Trenches Fitness was very successful when it started, but when the kiddos came around free time (and quiet time!) became more and more limited.

Now the landscape of podcasting is much different. It’s almost like blogging these days;  where virtually anyone can have a blog, now they can have a podcast, too.

But my goal is always to stick out from the crowd, via putting high-quality, trusted information out there.

I say all of this to let you know that I could’ve stayed put exactly where I was. I could’ve stayed on the path of pure strength training, or pure corrective exercise.

But doing so would be disingenuous, and not true to my own focus and passion.

So even though it’s been uncomfortable to change, I feel like now, more than ever, I’m on the career path that I’m best suited for.

#2 – Coaching Speed and Agility Training

This is another area of my life that’s been hard to get my head wrapped around.

I could go into virtually any gym in the county and feel very confident in my ability to coach athletes.

And in that same vein, I’m also incredibly confident in my ability to write programs and get a result with my athletes.

But my experience with speed training isn’t on that level – at least not yet.

Since I have been successful in certain areas, it can make it paralyzing to admit that you don’t know something.

Or to admit that while you might be an expert in one area of physical preparation, that you’re not in another.

Lateral-Shuffle-ResistancePlus, I’ve been blessed to hang out with and learn from some of the best in the speed and agility world.

Whether we’re talking about Lee Taft, Nick Winkelman, Joe DeFranco, or Derek Hansen, if you’re expecting yourself to be on their level straight away, then you’re setting yourself up to feel defeated.

So this off-season, I probably did more speed and agility coaching than ever before. And trust me, it’s not always pretty!

The only comparison I have is this: It must feel like what our interns feel when they’re in the gym.

Maybe they see that something is off, but they don’t know why. Or worse, they don’t know how to fix it!

That’s how I feel coaching speed and agility right now.

But I’m also getting better as a result. I’m seeing more things. I don’t always know why I see them, but I know that these near misses are allowing me to learn and get better as a result.

And here’s a really important take away point:

Stop comparing yourself to other people, especially world-class experts. Use them as a point of reference, sure, but measure your success based on your own incremental improvements, not what you assume to be finish line.

That’s a writer-downer.

Each one of us has strengths and weaknesses. While I’m not a world-class speed coach (yet!), I have a ton of other unique skills and abilities that help me make amazing athletes.

#3 – Improving my Nutrition Game

I clearly remember last year at the Elite Athletic Development seminar, someone asked me how much nutrition coaching I do.

“Zero” – was my response.

At the time, I didn’t have to do much. For the most part I worked with lean athletes, and they didn’t have a ton of body comp issues.

And then in the case of a guy like Roy Hibbert, he’s got a professional (Mike Roussell) that he’s working with to make sure he’s got his bases covered.

But this is an area where complacency has gotten the best of me.

You may not know this, but as I was wrapping up my undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and prepping for Grad School, I was very serious about becoming a dietitian as well.

I took nutrition classes, and of course my girlfriend (now wife) was a dietitian, so I figured being a trainer AND a dietitian would give me a unique perspective on training in general.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work out.

Between grad school, my own training, and working a side job to help pay the bills, it just wasn’t in the cards. I would’ve had to take at least an extra two years of classes, plus take another six month internship just to sit for the test.

So while there was a time when I was very confident in answering questions about nutrition, as of a few months ago, that could no longer be said.

Quite simply, I hadn’t gotten outside of my comfort zone in this area, and worse, I now had athletes that absolutely needed guidance in this area!

PN-Certification.previewThat’s when I e-mailed my good friend John Berardi and got started with the Precision Nutrition Certification program.

My goal wasn’t to get “certified,” although that’s definitely a bonus. My goal was to get outside of my own comfort zone, knowing that the more I learned about nutrition, the more I could help the clients and athletes I train.

#4 – The Guitar

If we’re talking openly about failure, I don’t know if any example could be more clear than my learning to play guitar.

Growing up, my mom made me play the piano. There were certain times I loved it, but as I got older sports took over my life and lessons and practice felt more and more like a job.

But here’s the thing – I was actually pretty good. I even did performances every year and got graded on it, so I had that memory of success burned into my skull.

So that memory of success with the piano often held me back from trying a new instrument.

I’ve always loved music. If you took a look at my music collection, I’d argue it has to be one of the most eclectic out there.

On one hand, I love both hip-hop and EDM, so there was a time when I wanted to become a DJ.

But on the flip side I’ve also always loved a good hard-rock lick, so I thought maybe guitar would be cool, too.

When it comes to the guitar, I’m not sure there’s anything as infuriating as trying to tell your awkward feeling fingers where to go.

You can see the fingers set-up properly in your book.

You can see it in your brain.

Hell, you can even hear the sound it’s supposed to make.

But damnit, you just can’t seem to put it all together!

So this has been a tough one for me. When you combine my Type A, success-driven personality with a fading memory of my elite piano skills, nothing about this has been easy.

This led me to another realization, though:

Too often in memories we cherry pick the stuff we want to remember. For instance in piano, I remember crushing a solo or the level I got to after a certain period of time.

What we fail to remember, though, is all the hard work and dedication it took to get us to that point!

It’s akin to remembering the destination, but not remembering the journey that got us there.

So it may sound cliche, but I’m really working on enjoying the journey this time. With the guitar I don’t have destination, which allows me to fail constantly and not beat myself up over it.


In a really long-winded and round about way, I hope you getting what I’m throwing at you here.

Failure is our friend.

Failure lets us know that we’re not where we want to be yet, and often, gives us the most realistic feedback on what it is we need to work on to get better.

So if I could give you one final piece of advice, it would be this.

Don’t be afraid to dream big. Whatever your dreams are now, try and think even bigger.

If you were guaranteed success, what would you try and accomplish, or achieve?

And damnit, don’t fear failure. Use it as a gauge, as motivation, or simply as a tool to catapult you forward in life.

Not only will you be happier and healthier, but in spite of your failures you’ll ultimately feel more successful.

All the best



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  1. Mike, thank you for posting such a wise and epic post that let’s your subscribers into the depths of your mind… and life. You said it brother… Change brings failures, but how you manage them largely determines your success. The clock never stands still, so why should you? I hope that everyone reading this better embraces the opportunity of change, the associated struggle, and, if they keep getting back up to the plate, the eventual and glorious success! There’s a reason why the view from the summit looks so beautiful… It symbolizes you overcoming the difficulty in experiencing it…
    In Gratitude

    • Tanner – Thanks for the kind words man. I really appreciate it and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!


  2. Flipped my life upside down in ’14 to make dreams become reality. Things were staying the same for too long. I quit moving towards my end goals, so I made some big moves. I changed my mindframe on what I considered to be failure. Sure, I failed on some major things, but by changing my mindframe, those “failures” have helped me make DRAMATIC moves forward. Pretty cool shit going on in the Smart Bro world Bro Robertson. Thanks for sharing bro! EXACTLY where I’m at right now.

    • Thanks for sharing brotha! I feel ya and I love the fact that you’re willing to make changes. Keep up the good work and I hope to see ya soon!

  3. Great post. I’m going through some transitions as well, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s so important to really take an assessment of where your life is going and then changing that direction toward what you want. Perfect timing for a post like this on my end!

  4. I love the post Mike. Sometimes looking back at our failures really does teach us how to grow more as individuals. Even though it can be tough on our “Egos”, in my opinion, it is the only way we learn. So thanks again for sharing your own personal growth and development goals and showing me that even some of the best people in this industry (you) are still trying to progress your skill set regardless of the outcome.

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