How a 13-Year-Old Can Teach You to Rethink Failure

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about Lucy Westlake and her dad (Rodney) climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

The post discussed the importance of winning and, more importantly, winning with others as opposed to winning at the expense of others.

“Winning often begets winning, but winning is at its very best when you bring someone or something else with you along the way.”

That article was all about winning.

This article isn’t about winning (at least not in the traditional sense).

We typically refer to winning as accomplishing a goal or defeating an opponent. In contrast, failure is seen as the opposite. Using the traditional winning vs. failure perspective, Lucy failed this summer.


She and her dad set out to climb Denali in Alaska. It is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level.

After 20 days on the mountain, they descended. Weather made reaching the summit impossible. As a result, Lucy ‘failed’ in a couple of ways:

  • She didn’t summit Denali.
  • She didn’t become the youngest female in history to reach the highest point of all 50 states.

As you might imagine, Lucy was disappointed in the outcome.

At age 13, she was set to smash the record currently held by an 18-year-old climber. As she told Outside magazine, “I was really disappointed that we had gone up all that way. We’d worked so hard to get to that point.”

Of course she was disappointed. You would be too. She had invested a ton of time, energy, emotion, and effort in reaching her goal. Every other climb had gone flawlessly. She reached every summit without fail.

But what she learned from failing is a victory in and of itself.

Don’t take my word for it, read for yourself what Lucy told Outside magazine in an interview they conducted with her just after she failed to summit Denali.

They titled the piece:

Lucy Westlake is the Grittiest 13-Year-Old Mountain Climber We Know

“The thing that builds determination the most and makes you a better athlete and person isn’t completing your goal. It’s losing and seeing what you could do better. Winning and summiting are great, but what really makes you resilient is defeat, not climbing the mountain. It just makes you want it that much more.” – Lucy Westlake

Here are two things we can all learn from Lucy’s ability to fail gracefully:

1. Determination to achieve greatness

Jim Collins wrote that, “good is the enemy of great.” There is a long list of unknown poets, musicians, and other dreamers who gave up on achieving greatness at the first sign of failure. Instead of standing at the summit of their own success, they settled for something less. They decided that good was good enough.

Lucy could certainly do this. She already holds the title for the youngest female to reach the highest point in the lower 48 states. In her mind, that’s pretty darn good, but she is determined to do more. She is determined to achieve greatness.

Consider yourself:

  • Have past failures increased or diminished your determination for greatness?
  • What dreams have you and your team members given up on and settled for something less?
  • Could you (and should you) revisit your goals and dreams?

2. Resilience in the face of failure

When we get knocked down, some of us have a difficult time getting back up and trying again. Not only do we lose the drive to summit the mountain that beat us, but we decide that we are no longer a climber at all.

The poet puts down his pen.

The musician sets down her instrument.

The challenge is that you build resiliency when you don’t need it. That way you can draw from a deep well of resiliency when failure comes. And, it will come.

Consider yourself :

  • Have you been knocked down in the past and managed to get back up and try again?
  • How deep is your well of resiliency?
  • What are you doing right now to invest in your mind, relationships, body, and spirit?

I have no doubt that Lucy will climb Denali and any other mountain she sets out to conquer in life. Her determination and resiliency will see to that.

My hope is that you too will reach every highpoint you set out to achieve.

1 Comment

  1. Julie Mitchell on November 17, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Excellent article on an exceptional young person with an outstanding outlook on life. I believe there are many people at this time in the US at the bottom of the pit of some form of “failure” from which they could climb out and be victorious by accepting personal responsibility to not allow life’s events to keep them down. Remembering people like Thomas Edison, and leaning on God for Strength, I’ve learned to see “failure” as really only being one more way in which to not do something, propelling me forward to the next venture! Your article hit the spot well and concisely. Thank you!

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