What I Learned From Kobe Bryant About Failure
The passing of Kobe Bryant put my failure into perspective. His words reminded me that failure is not the act of not getting what you want, it’s deciding to not try again in the days after you “fail.”
I’m spiraling, and it’s not a fun feeling.
It happens at least once a month, I’m sure, yet it seems to consume me like it’s the first time. In the spiral, I’m speaking to myself as if I’m the filthiest beast to walk the earth. I diminish my accomplishments based on what others are achieving on Instagram. I feel as if I’m behind in the race of life, and there is no way to catch up. Let alone maybe even win this thing. The smallest hiccups in life, like getting a rejection email from a publication I had my heart set on, are catastrophic to the point of weighing me down. I feel like a nobody. There is no way I can recover from this blow. I might as well burn everything that I’ve written. I throw another towel in, adding it to my collection. Then, the suicidal thoughts creep in, because in one swoop, my life’s purpose has been stripped from me. I will never be anything.
As dramatic as this sounds, this is how my brain processes failure. For me, failure is terrifying and virtually impossible to bounce back from. This spiral lasts for three weeks, making February a dreary month. On top of back to back rejection letters, comparing myself to “friends” from my past, and feeling like at 22 I’m at the end of the line when 16-year-old Tik Tok moguls are living in mansions, I’m coping with grief. Not a local grief, where I can cry privately and deal with it within my inner circle. No, this is a worldwide earthquake of grief that’s broadcasted across news stations, podcasts, and social media. It’s inescapable and constricting, because a legend has passed. We are witnessing from the window as a family tries to pick up the pieces from the loss of their rock, the best dad in the world. An entire sport is affected, and it becomes transparent when we see six-foot men with tears streaming down their faces and their heads low. It’s plastered on every major magazine. And as the days go on, we wonder how we can heal from this riveting tragedy.
It’s Monday, February 24, 2020 and I’m less than five minutes into Kobe Bryant’s memorial service. Already, I’m sobbing. Not the cute cry, where a single tear falls and I can simply brush it away. No, it’s the full-on, covering my mouth, lips contorted, eyes closed type of cry that’s been bubbling within me since I first heard the news. Truthfully, the service was phenomenal, a two-hour celebration of Kobe's and Gigi’s lives and legacies. I lingered on the channel for a few minutes after the service. Luckily, following the service, there was a recap of an interview from 2015, a year before Kobe retired from basketball. The interviewer asked Kobe about how he processed failure, and my ears perked up.
Kobe’s face softens, but his words are hard-hitting. He locks eyes with the interviewer and bluntly reveals, “Failure is not real. It’s a mindset. If you fail on Monday, try again Tuesday. How you get over failure is to try again the next day.”
The passing of Kobe Bryant put my own failure into perspective. It made me realize how microscopic our issues are in the grand scheme of things when we reach the end of our lives. Superficial things, like the number of Instagram likes on a post, the car we’re driving, whether or not we are in a relationship are such surface-level worries. Yet, they determine our worth. Approval from strangers is a deciding factor in whether or not we view ourselves as successes or failures. Isn’t that crazy? However, Kobe Bryant didn’t allow himself to fall into that trap, and that is why he was iconic. Because he tuned out the noise and didn’t let it veer him off of his path. Like Kobe said, “failure is a mindset.” If you never let the approval of others control your value, then failure is non-existent.
This is something I’m still working on.
Kobe’s words reminded me that failure is not the act of not getting what you want. Instead, it’s deciding to not try again in the days after you “fail.” Just the fact that you tried should be an accomplishment, but governing your own strength and continuing onto the next minute, hour, day, or year is success. Deciding to date again after a toxic relationship is a success. Enrolling back into college after dropping out is a success. Applying for new jobs after getting laid off is a success. I’m sure Kobe Bryant didn’t streamline from high school to the NBA without a few bruises here and there. In fact, Kobe spent his early high school years in isolation because he was fluent in Italian and struggled to adapt to American culture after spending most of his childhood abroad in Italy. He admits in Kobe Bryant’s Muse that because he was misunderstood by his American peers, this caused him to have a lot of pent-up anger. But instead of self-destructing, Kobe took his frustrations to the court, and practiced harder than anyone else on the team.
I’d like to thank Kobe and his family for sharing their wisdom and inspiring us, always reminding us to not only serve others, but serve ourselves, because there is only one of us. While I was not a follower of Kobe or basketball (because most of his career I was very young and couldn’t appreciate him, like I do now), I cherish his words. Kobe taught me that the only way we can fail is that if we tell ourselves “I failed."