Failing Small

Reframing your day: “Instead of feeling that you lost the day after a bad morning, reframe the day into four quarters–morning, midday, afternoon, and evening. If you blow one quarter just get back on track for the next one. Fail small, not big.”

A Facebook friend shared a collection of advice recently and this was one I really loved. “Fail small, not big.” It resonated with me.

I’ve written before about the significance of failing well. It occurs to me that failing small is one way to fail well. You can admit failure without it being a failure of all the things. It rarely is. You had a fight with a friend? You didn’t fail as a friend. More likely you mucked up one interaction.

Likewise, with workouts. You had a bad run. It’s one bad run. Move on. I know the voice that says, why did you think you could do this? You’re not a runner. And all of of a sudden it’s not even just running. It’s everything in your life.

I think it’s important to take risks and to not be afraid of failure. “Failing small” strikes me as one way of letting failure in but keeping it in its place. Racing the Snipe (a small 2 person sailing dinghy) this weekend, Sarah and I had a couple of really bad mark roundings. One in particular stands out in my mind because it was my fault. But we were able to keep on racing and keep our spirits up by admitting our mistakes but not making them into a giant catastrophe. It was just a bad mark rounding. We can practice mark roundings. There’s room to get better.

October 13th is the International Day of Failure. It’s fast approaching. What’s your approach to failure?


Happy International Failure Day! #DayForFailure

International Failure Day began in Finland where a National Failure Day has been celebrated on October 13th since 2010.

From Culture Trip here’s an explanation of the reason for this special day:

“The organisers of the Day for Failure argue that making mistakes is a normal and healthy part of life which goes towards success, rather than detracting from it. They invite big names and high achievers to speak on the day and explain the setbacks they have had in their own journeys to success and how they learned from them to provide inspiration to others. Encouraging people to try new or difficult things without worrying about the consequences gives them the confidence to step out of their comfort zone and enjoy an activity. By sharing stories and photos of botched attempts online, they lose their natural fear of criticism.”

Read more about Failure Day here and here.

I’ve shared some of my past failure stories here on the blog, with the aim of making failure a thing that we can talk about. See Fail Again, Fail Better and It’s okay to fail, or let’s make some glorious mistakes in the coming year.

We’ve had guests post about failure as a feminist issue. See Audrey’s The Importance of Trying and Failing (Guest Post), Steph’s “Failure” in lifting, and life (Guest post) and Saba’s Failure, Fitness, and Feminism (Guest Post).

Through the history of the blog we’ve marked our successes (bike rallies ridden! fittest by fifty! Aikido belts awarded! deadlifting 200 lbs!) but I also like to think we’ve made space for acknowledging our setbacks and failures (sports dropped and goals not met). It tells me something that these posts always, inevitably get read more than posts about races successfully completed and fitness events in which we’ve done well. People relate more to the stuff we find hard.

My most recent failure is swimming. I took one on one lessons last fall and I meant to keep it but I didn’t. I won’t give you the excuses. This isn’t the time for that. I set out to learn to swim and to swim regularly but I failed. Don’t worry. I’ll try again. I’m good that way.

How about you? What’s one fitness failure you want to share with the blog? Tell your feminist fitness failure story in the comments.

The Intl Day for Failure October 13th
Guest Post

Failure, Fitness, and Feminism (Guest Post)

By Saba Fatima

Sam recently contacted me and asked if I wanted to write another post for the Fit is a Feminist Issue blog. I felt a bit paralyzed, because I had stopped exercising again. If any of you remember, I had written in May about exercising during Ramadhan, and one of the things I commented on then was how Ramadhan often resulted in me taking an irreparable break from exercise, and how this Ramadhan was different . Well, after Ramadhan, we left for Najaf and Karbala (Iraq) for a religious pilgrimage,

a brown woman standing in front of the entrance of a large mosque at night time.
Me at Masjid-e-Kufa in Iraq at 3 am at the morning, right before morning prayers.

and onto NYC for a wedding.

A man, a woman, and two kids sitting on a flower-decorated swing
At one of the wedding ceremonies in NYC

While I walked a lot in Iraq, I also started consuming high amounts of soda (it was readily available and it was super-hot).

Screenshot of the weather app in iPhone, indicating temperature of 105F in Karbala, Iraq.
the air was super dry and the sun was relentless.

Once we returned, I just couldn’t start again. I don’t have any excuse, I just didn’t want to, didn’t feel like I was in a routine, or something like that. In fact, I have gone back to consuming a soda bottle a day and eating quite unhealthily.

So I thought, what the heck would I write on? Too embarrassed to even respond, I felt paralyzed. Then fellow philosopher and a prominent scholar on disability, Shelley Lynn Tremain, posted this link to an article on her Facebook page Discrimination and Disadvantage, The danger of fetishizing failure in the academy. Something in that article really stuck out to me. “What I was inadvertently telling students with my cheeky art installation was that their failures don’t matter as long as they eventually succeed – and that success is narrowly defined as excellent grades.” Well, that’s how I felt about exercising. Writing a blog about how I didn’t exercise during such and such time would be wonderful, but only if it ends with some triumphant story about being fit and eating healthy, and how I was able to overcome it all.

Well, it’s a constant struggle for me and it doesn’t always have a triumphant ending.

Bio: I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Religious Studies program coordinator at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I am always in the process of getting/remaining physically active. I am also the mother of a 10 and 8 year old. I am concerned about social and political issues that Muslim Americans and other marginalized communities face and believe that our struggles have many commonalities. I am currently working on a book on an introduction to Shia Islam. You can find more about me at


“Failure” in lifting, and life (Guest post)

I wanna talk about failure in lifting for a sec. Not muscle failure like being unable to complete a rep–well, that might be part of it too. But when things don’t go as planned.

I’ve been inspired these days by the super strong women over at Women’s Strength Coalition (check our their Facebook) doing some killer lifts and thought, “What the hell, maybe I should film myself lifting.”

I’m not focusing on strength right now, but reps/endurance (higher repetitions with lighter weight for a max of 12 reps). But I have been killing this routine. Got my deadlifts at 205lbs for 12 reps solid. Today was the last hoorah before changing routines, so I figured it was a good time to see what I could capture on film.

But from the moment I picked up the very first weight, everything felt heavy. Even the warm up. Ugh.

I went in for my first set of deadlifts and it was brutal. Each rep felt like a ton. And I failed. Totally failed. Barely initiated the 10th rep and had to let it go. Put the bar down. The second set–I don’t even want to think about the second set!–was way worse. 5 reps. 5 reps of my 12-rep weight! And I was filming all this. Beautiful. *sarcasm*

I finished off with a set of Romanian deadlifts and managed my usual 10 at my 10-rep weight. But, boy, were they ugly. I just muscled through it.

After all that, I watched the videos of my disappointing lifts. And it got me thinking about failure. Online we usually only see images of awesome feats, but rarely do we see any posts about the lifts that “failed.” (Unless they are nastily mocking people, but that’s a whole other topic).

In my academic life, I’ve been engaged in discussions about how it’s important to be more transparent about failure (e.g., grants not awarded, papers rejected, etc.) to create a more supportive (and healthy) academic culture. (Jennifer Diascro has a fabulous blog about tenure denial and failure in the academy if you’re interested.) This made me wonder about lifting as well. Maybe we should share some of our “failed” lifts too? Not just the most impressive ones? Is that part of how we build an inclusive and supportive community of strength (training) that welcomes all?

Every day in the gym can’t be our best and that’s part of training. Figuring out why things didn’t go as planned, and learning to accept that, is what helps us move forward. In lifting, and in life.

So here are my “failed” lifts today.

Stephanie Coen is a postdoctoral associate in geography at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. Her research focuses on the role of place and environment in the gendering of physical activity. She recently published a study about gender and gyms. Her passion for equity in physical activity and health opportunities drives her research. She can be found tweeting at @steph_coen.