Our Outdoors: The Greatest Teacher

By Nick Simonson

“The greatest teacher, failure is.” In the newest installment of Star Wars (sorry…spoiler alert, skip this paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet) the wisdom of Yoda shines through once again as he counsels a conflicted Luke Skywalker struggling to overcome the self-imposed exile from society and the force, which resulted from his mistakes and perceived weaknesses that in turn gave rise to the new trilogy’s villain, Kylo Ren.  Rising up and embracing who he is as a result of those errors, Skywalker faces off with his former student to set right old wrongs and preserve the rebellion against the First Order.

At the turn of the calendar, with new goals and resolutions in mind, the Jedi master’s statement was all the more poignant and it resonated long after the lights went up and I made my way out of the theater into the chill of the end-of-year evening.  I thought back on a few of my shortcomings in the field these past 12 months.  A missed buck with the bow and a couple very bad days of shooting still lingered at the forefront, due to their proximity in time to the end of the year.  With the statement wrapping around those recent memories, I focused on how those moments factored into what I was doing to better prepare for the next deer archery season, and how I rebounded on my follow-up trips for birds which went a lot better as the upland season progressed.

Show me a person who hasn’t failed and I’ll show you a person who hasn’t really tried.  In this era of perfect lives and posts to social media of only huge deer, big fish and limits of birds, the important lessons taught by trial and error in the outdoors are often lost, and an unreal expectation of success is instituted in its place. Big fish that get away, a nice deer missed, a day of awful wingshooting, or a set of three zeros at the end of an otherwise perfect round of clays are not the things sportsmen often talk about or post on their feed. However, they’re real, they’re going to happen to everyone and they’re important to development in the field. Behind every big buck or perfect 100 are countless lessons from times where those individuals who accomplished the ultimate feat fell short again and again.  Those moments make us wiser, spur us on to try again and explore new ways to succeed, even though they might not be the things that are shared on Facebook.

And while it’s important to own your mistakes, it is equally imperative to not let them own you. There’s a lesson in each miss, in each almost there, in each little oversight that prevents a perfect result.  Mentally compartmentalize that teaching and separate out the emotion that may come with falling short.  The sting may not fade immediately, but eventually it will subside. (I’m still waiting on the ghost of the large 5-by-5 to disappear.)

Don’t be afraid of failure, or what others might say or think and the feelings that go with all of that – be afraid of not being able to learn from the experience.  This isn’t just a lesson for future adventures in the outdoors, but also in life.  With the start of a new year comes another chance, whether psychological or real, to leave the mistakes behind and take the lessons with you.  A moment to re-aim and hit the mark or maybe even raise the bar and of course, more opportunities to fail, learn, improve, grow and ultimately succeed at whatever resolutions lay ahead in the next 12 months and beyond.

This year, dare greatly in all your endeavors and stand apart from, as another great leader, Teddy Roosevelt, called them, “those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” because they never tried, and never advanced with hard-earned first-hand knowledge you have .  Learn from failure in order to succeed, and consider sharing one or two of the lessons that got you there when that photo of a great day in the field goes up online.  Don’t worry about the naysayers and the critics, the kibitzers and questioners or the pains that might come with each lesson, because none of that matters. What matters only is the process of becoming a more complete hunter, angler, and person who recognizes and shares not only the victories experienced but also the lessons learned from the greatest teacher…in our outdoors.

(Featured Photo: Take the lessons learned on the road behind you to help pave a better path just around the bend in all your outdoor adventures and in life. Simonson Photo)

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