How to Fail: Lessons from Macca’s Campaign for an Olympic Spot

Chris McCormack (aka Macca) is one of the greatest triathletes of all time.

He has dominated triathlon across all distances at various points during his illustrious career.

He has won the world’s hardest one-day sporting event, the Hawaii Ironman, not once but twice.

The only thing missing from his CV however was a spot on the Australian Olympic team.

He missed the opportunity to race in his hometown Olympic Games, in Sydney 2000 due to the death of his mother in the midst of the selection races.

Then some 2 years ago, at the ‘tender’ age of 38, he put his hand up & expressed his intention to earn a spot on the team for the London Olympic Games.

It would have been a fairytale ending to Macca’s illustrious career had he secured a spot on the team.

But last Friday, on Twitter he announced – with grace & dignity – that he didn’t get the spot.

The fairytale was over.

He failed.

Failure, of course, means different things to different people.

But many age group athletes can learn from the way he handled himself during the whole process.

1.       Set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)

The Olympics are an audacious goal for any athlete.

Coupled with the fact that at 38 (in what some might describe as the twilight of his career), Macca was up to 15 years older than many other competitors.

His goal was almost breathtaking in its scale.

Lesson: You don’t get into a car without a destination in mind. Likewise, if you are going to achieve something in life, a goal is the first step. Dream big; the bigger, the better. Life is too short to be ordinary – so aim for the extraordinary [Click to tweet].

2.      Tell everyone about your BHAG

It’s safe to say that Macca is the most (openly) opinionated professional triathletes on the circuit.

He doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind. Even the day before the team was announced, he openly criticised the entire process used to select the Olympic team, (seemingly) without fear of jeopardising his own spot on the team.

This outspokenness makes him one of the most loved, or most hated, triathletes on the planet (depending on who you speak to).

Lesson: I’m not suggesting you brag to the world about how great you are. But accountability is a key element in most, if not all, success stories. Telling others what your goal is allows them to hold you accountable & make sure you follow through (especially when times get tough) is critical.

3.      Ignore the naysayers

Many ridiculed Macca for his goal.

That he was “too old, too slow”.

That it was ridiculous for one of the “old men” of triathlon to try for a spot on a national team normally full of much younger men.

Not to mention the fact that years of Ironman training had “made him too slow” to keep up with the speeds the (much) younger athletes race at.

Heck, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t think he’d be able to do it.

Lesson: don’t listen to those who are critical of you or tell you that you can’t achieve your goals. Rely on those who are supportive & let go of worrying about what others might say or think.

4.      Do the hard yards (ie. Do the work)

Four-leaf clovers and rabbits feet will not magically infuse you with the qualities and characteristics you need to achieve your goal.

Macca has had to do countless sessions over the last 2 years in an effort to push his body to speeds it hasn’t done in years. In his book, Macca himself says

There’s no secret to being a triathlete. Anyone could do what I did. The formula is simple: passion, commitment, repetition, a lot of hard work &  a refusal to fail.

Lesson: There are a thousand different training programs and philosophies. Whatever you do, choose one and stick with it. Stop making excuses. Just do the hard work and get the sessions done. Every single session is another step closer to your goal.

5.      Know Your Why

Why do you want to achieve your goal?

Macca’s drive to make the Olympic team is deeply connected with his mother who died from breast cancer in 1999. Macca writes in his book that, at his mother’s instigation, he continued to chase a spot on the team for the 2000 Olympic Games while she (unknown to him) was dying from cancer.

After her death, he lost the will to race and gave up his pursuit for a spot on the Olympic team.

But since then, Macca has found a new purpose, established the Macca Now Foundation and raises funds for breast cancer research. This work has continued to drive this training & racing over a long career.

Lesson: what is your why? Why do you want to achieve your goal?

The best way to get the true answer is to ask yourself why 5 times. If your goal is to finish an Ironman, ask yourself why? What is it you want to feel or experience?

Then ask yourself why you want to feel or experience that specific thing. It might be to increase your confidence, to rid yourself of self-doubt. To prove to yourself that you are capable of doing something extraordinary. Tap into the true reason which is hidden deep within your soul & you’ll be well on your way.

5. Fail, grieve, dust yourself off & move on.

Last Friday night, Macca tweeted ~

He had failed in achieving his BHAG.

But then he did something many of us should learn from.

He picked up himself up and 2 days later raced his first Ironman race (in Cairns) in a year, validating his spot in the Hawaii Ironman in October – his next BHAG.

Lesson: If you ‘fail’, allowing yourself time to grieve is an important part of the healing process. But make sure it’s only short; a day or two at most to wallow or grieve. But then pick yourself up, choose your next BHAG and move on. Life is too short to lose days, weeks and even years grieving over dreams lost.

We all hold ourselves back, inventing excuses and reasons why we can’t – or won’t – achieve the things we want. Or we then waste time grieving when we should be moving onto our next goal.

So which of Macca’s keys to “failing” do you need to work on the most? Scroll down & share it in the comments below.

While you think about that, I’m off to find a glass of wine to toast Macca’s success – and failure!

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