I think the last time I picked up a bow and arrow was when I was 9, on a activity weekend organised by my school. With images of Robin Hood running through my head I had tried to fire the arrows as I had seen my disney heroes do, fast, effortlessly and always accurate.
I obviously failed miserably – I had expected a completely different experience and gave up after 10 minutes.
Now twenty years later I was stood in a small wooded area in the Lake District facing a hastily rigged up firing range, angled to the left so that any arrows mis-fired would be less likely to hit the sheep in the adjacent field.
The idealised images of those dusty childhood characters still dancing in my mind were now mixed with later images of the Lara Croft and Indiana Jones. But now what had changed within me and how I approached the bow and arrows in my hands, was not just the characters in my mind, but also life experience.
Not surprisingly life teaches you many things in the space between childhood and adulthood, one of which often goes unnoticed – the lesson of failure.
In failing we learn that we are not naturally talented, we have to try. In my impulsive and rather idealistic youth I had believed that skills come naturally – if there is hard work involved or the minimum of concentration then your not good at it. Full stop.
Now, a few seasons later I understand that hardly anyone has an inmate ability – be that on the piano, at climbing trees or at algebra. The best have put the time in to learn, and the best were once beginners themselves.
So this time I approached archery with the mind to learn – without pre-convieved expectations. Allowing for the fact that if I didn’t hit the yellow first time it would not make me a failure at the sport. I permitted myself to be accepting of shooting a few wry arrows. And in doing this I gave myself time to learn how to focus on my target; the space to be aware of my body stance and the time to listen to my breath.
I am still no robin hood, but within the hour I became quite a good shot. And although I don’t fancy my chances at living off the fruits of my bow and arrow in the wild, I now appreciate all the times I didn’t not succeed.
Failure changes the way we approach new challenges, it gives us the gift of accepting that we can learn and in doing so – it also directs all that energy spent on dreaming into the stamina to keep trying and keep improving.