4 Causes of Colossal Failure and How to Recover

Failure is a bummer. Too often we fret about the prospects, relying on preparation and readiness to get us through our challenges unscathed. But still potential failure always lurks.

The case of Kyle Stanley

You don’t have to know anything about professional golf to identify with Kyle’s story. In 2011 he debuted on the PGA tour, recording four top ten finishes, his career off to a great start.

On Sunday, January 29, 2011, Kyle was playing the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. With a 3-shot lead, he was 77 yards from the pin on the par-5 final hole, poised for his first win.

Scott Bordow, sports writer for The Republic captured what came next:

… his 3rd shot hit the green and spun back into the water. Moments later, he …wrote a triple-bogey 8 on his scorecard. Within 30 minutes he was shaking the hand of the winner, Brandt Snedeker, who bested him in a two-hole playoff.

This wasn’t just the loss of a golf tournament and the $1,080,000 winner’s check. It cost Stanley an invitation to the coveted Masters Tournament and a two-year qualifying exemption on the PGA Tour. It also pointed a glaring public spotlight on him. Never again would commentators mention his name without referring to his collapse at Torrey Pines.

Colossal failures are memorable and often unshakable.

Protecting yourself

Remember, it’s colossal failure, we’re talking about here–those instances where something out of the ordinary and often unpredictable happens when the stakes are high.

Jaw-dropping failure can be credited to:

1. Mistakes in execution and/or judgment–We simply don’t apply our knowledge or showcase our skills as well as we usually do.
Stanley chipped his ball onto the 18th green on a down slope without enough spin to hold it. So it rolled into the water.
2. Changed conditions–We’re suddenly facing unexpected situations and don’t quite know what to do.
With the pressure of a penalty stroke weighing on him, Stanley wasn’t able to figure out how to win.
3. Unmanaged emotions–We let our confidence crack under the weight of the pressure, allowing doubt and negative self-talk to creep into our present.
Stanley seemed outwardly calm as he went about his pre-shot routine on the 18th green, but his missed putts were indications that his concentration had been shaken.
4. Bad luck–There are forces beyond our control that we can’t successfully address.

Stanley’s ball could have stopped before it reached the water but it didn’t.  Such is life.

The road to recovery

Colossal failures don’t define you negatively unless you let them. It takes courage to take on a colossal challenge and equal courage to deal with failure.

To recover from failure you need to:

Stop second-guessing or berating yourself–According to Bordow, Stanley said, “You can either let it get you down…or you can focus on the positive. I did way too many good things last week to dwell on one shot or one hole or one putt.”

Take support to heart–Family, friends, and other golfers came to Stanley’s side, sharing what they’d learned from their own big failure experiences and reinforcing his talents.

Commit to becoming stronger–Refocus on your success goals and what it takes to achieve them. Turn the failure experience into a springboard to renewed commitment to the work you need to do. That’s what Stanley has already started.

The big finish

You can’t fail big unless you’re darn good at what you do. Why? Because you don’t get a chance to be center stage unless you’ve already distinguished yourself.

Bordow writes about Stanley: “…only in losing in such devastating fashion did he finally understand that he was good enough to win.”

The same is true for you. The big stage and the potential for colossal failure are measures of what you’ve already achieved and what you will achieve. The downside of failure is only as big as you make it. If you’re smart, you’ll face it bravely when it comes and then turn it to your advantage. That’s what winners do.

Photo from squaylor via Flickr