I Didn’t Finish the PCT and That’s OK
I hate participation ribbons. Hate.
I grew up playing youth sports and the bane of my existence was those stupid participation ribbons. You know the ones, the ones they give to losers to make them feel better about the reality that they lost. From far away, they look rather nice. A ubiquitously recognized congratulatory ribbon shape stamped with some cursive lettering, often in gold, usually with a few shooting stars or decorative squiggles. But when you look close, it spells out the most condescending of congratulations: “Participant!” which bluntly translates to “Congratulations! You lost!” I hate those ribbons.
I think the root of my hatred with those stupid ribbons isn’t the garish nature of the object itself, it’s what they stand for, what they fundamentally represent: that losing is so bad it must be rebranded into participation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with losing—I mean, someone has to. Don’t get me wrong; losing sucks. Bad. It makes you face the fact that you failed. But failure is a mark that you tried, that you attempted something hard. It means that you are striving to do more than you know you are certainly capable of. Failing doesn’t mark a lapse in character or a degradation of integrity; it is a mark that you are living at the edge of your abilities. That you are boundlessly seeking to grow. That you are jumping at the prospect of a challenge and throwing your best attempt at it.
I set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and I failed.
And so, I am admitting failure: I set out to hike the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail and I failed. Instead of 2,650 miles, I hiked 700. That is roughly a quarter of the trail. I politely decline your pat on the back or any response related to “You’re a winner in my eyes!” I failed. As I write this, I’m smiling. It feels oddly freeing, satisfying even, to admit failure. I set my sights on a goal and I didn’t do it. I failed. And in the same breath, I am so proud of myself.
I hiked 700 miles.
700-freaking-hundred miles!! I walked alone in the California desert for three weeks straight. I walked across an entire state that was covered in snow and inhabited by the most relentless mosquitoes I have ever encountered. One footstep at a time, I pushed myself harder than ever before. This failure reinforces the fact that I am living the fullest (and grimiest) life that I am capable of. I am throwing myself out there and giving it my all. I’m living at the cusp of my impossible. So here’s to a life full of adventure and love and laughter and failure. And please, dear God, I don’t want your participation ribbon—metaphorical or literal. Thanks, but no thanks. But if you want to buy me a “happy failure” beer, I will most definitely take it. Because—heck!!—I just walked 700 miles.
To be honest, I wonder if the inspirational ramble above is my conscious self’s attempt to assure my subconscious self that failure is OK. Maybe I don’t wholeheartedly believe the words as I type them, but I sure want to. Maybe stringing together those sentences is my attempt to convince myself to make peace with my failure to complete the Pacific Crest Trail this year. Maybe it is my attempt to coerce myself into believing that this failure somehow serves as a confirmation, not a contradiction, of my persistent and courageous spirit.
Who are we kidding. It definitely is.
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