September 3, 2023 8:43 PM

Owning my Failures - Cherishing my Moments

Benjamin Smith
Written by
Benjamin Smith

Spring is officially here. The days are getting longer and the prospect of another great season is on the doorstep. Secretly, this is my favourite season. I do adore autumn with its crisp days, cool nights, fleeting sunshine, and the brilliant last hurrah of deciduous leaves. Those are all bliss-filled moments worth celebrating, but spring is like welcoming an old friend back after the winter solitude. It is filled with possibilities and endless optimism. I feel at home with spring.

Every year, just following those last autumn gasps, I turn my sights to indoor projects and things I can work on with my brain instead of my back. I build out a lot of course proposals and also try to plan my entire following season no later than mid December. For the last few years I have had ambitious goals in mind that I hoped to accomplish. I also mix in a healthy amount of tea and board games with my wife and quality time with my kids. Sometimes it's easy to fall into a trap where we don't really know where we are going, but simply just move through our lives on cruise control. Winter is always my time to reassess my life direction.

This winter is now behind us and after some serious self-reflection this year, I have come to a very big and somewhat tough conclusion: I fail A LOT. It's not just the little things, either, liking failing to only eat one cookie out of the row instead of the entire row or failing to do all the laundry I hung on the line. This winter, I have had to admit that many of the really big things that I have put my time into over the last few years simply haven't worked. It is important for me to write about it because failing is a part of what makes me human and owning those failures can be a part what allows me to grow. Sharing these stories might help other people and since most of the time I only post about new courses and my successes, I figured it was well past time to talk about the other very real parts of my life.

Let's start with my biggest failure of the past five years: a National Coaching Certificate for disc golf. Since roughly the end of 2018, I have been on the executive of the Canadian National Disc Golf Association (CanDisc). It has been a slow, but steady process of forward movement. There have been times where I have simply been too busy with my daily work to devote much time to it. There have also been times where I was routinely putting in 20+ hours per week into nothing but CanDisc. A year or so into this endeavour, I took on a role with the Education Committee to create a Level 1 Coaching Certificate that could be delivered to anyone in Canada who wished to take the training. About six months ago, we beta-tested this product with some wonderful women across Canada.  We worked through some of the bumps in the road and beta-tested it again with the full Education Committee about three months ago. We were days, or even hours, away from releasing it to the public and then... well, then some things happened that were out of my control happened and the entire project collapsed. I was devastated and I was embarrassed. I felt both a lot of shame that I had not been able to deliver a product that I had told so many people about and frustrated that I had put in so much of my time into something that amounted to nothing. This project could change people's lives for the better and would have been a big part of the puzzle that would make disc golf a recognized sport in the eyes of Sport Canada, but if all this was going to happen, it would be without me at the helm. Not long after the collapse of the Level 1 (at least in its original form), I officially resigned from my post as the head of the Education Committee. I found it to be a heartbreaking end to something that seemed so promising. It is easily one of the biggest failures of my life. My only hope is that other people can pick up where I left off and that this whole episode will just be one part of the story. No matter what, I feel the need to admit I simply couldn't get the job done.

Of course, that wasn't my only huge loss this winter. Many people know about the "falling out" I have had with Hillcrest. For those of you not in the loop, the "Coles Notes" version is simply that this year I am transitioning away from running the Canadian National Championship into running a Disc Golf Pro Tour (DGPT) Silver Series Event called "The Discmania Open". The owners of Hillcrest and myself were not able to come together to find an amicable solution on how this event would be showcased. I did my best to fully articulate my needs and lay out a plan that would honour all of the parties involved. After talking to multiple stakeholders in this situation, nothing budged and I was left with a deep sense of loss. I am not bringing this up to have anyone feel sorry for me, but because I was genuinely surprised by both the outcome of this situation and the interpretations of many of the people involved. I honestly feel like the entire thing is an impossible situation for me where I tried my best and acted with honesty and transparency, but in the end still failed at getting all the people at the table to agree. It was, and is, the first time in my disc golf career that my passion for the game was ever crushed. I still don't have it back in the same way as I did before (but it should also be noted that I love the game more now than ever, too). Still, this is a failure that will go on my permanent record. It has caused people to speak poorly about me behind my back and lead to wild speculations on what really went on. I've had to learn that it's okay for me to be sad about this and that not everything has to work out all the time. Prior to this, I had always thought of myself as a facilitator and someone who could bring people together and make things happen by simply being open and honest. I didn't, and still don't know how, to fully how to proceed on this particular matter. I have always thought that disc golf could be different than the rest of the businesses in the world, but in the end, sometimes it works out to be very much the same. I can't stop people from talking about me and I can't change how people react to some of my ideas, but I can work on accepting these things. For now, that will have to be the lesson I take from this particular tough patch.

Over the years I have spent a lot of quiet time with myself and through that process, I have learned a considerable amount about my own human condition. For example, anytime someone tells me about a struggle they are going through, my first thought is usually about ways I can help. After spending a lot of time over the last few years talking about ways to improve our game and the areas that were underserved and could really grow, I decided that a major part of our 2023 campaign would focus on ways to increase female participation. Hence, our Flickline Female Leadership Initiative (FLI) program was created. I wanted to put real resources into a female-led project. I spent time talking to women about the best way to do that and came up with a plan. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans.... So far, our FLI program has not gone the way I had dreamed. I've struggled to find a woman who has time to lead this program, many of our speakers have not been able to find time to present to our group, and as of the writing of this blog post, most people who have signed up for the program have not received their disc. My spring has been busier than almost any point in my working history, but even still, the responsibility falls completely on my shoulders. This program is a great idea, but as of yet, I haven't been able to make it work to its full potential. For that, I am sorry. The remaining discs should be sent out this week, our next speaker is confirming a date very soon, and if I get lucky, I will still find someone who can devote their time to this idea. If not, I will come up with a different solution.

Everyone knows the saying, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again", but who gets to define what success is? I had a great coach that once that told me, "we either win or we learn; either way something is going to happen". Sometimes, I feel trapped in my own brain. I want to help and I desire to make things better, but the more times I try, the more I subject myself to not living up to my own expectations. It feels like an impossible situation, but then I try to remember the other side of the coin: am I defined by the things I have failed at or by the successes that I have experienced? I can only hope it is both.

As of writing this blog post, I am in the middle of opening up my 42nd course with numbers 43 and 44 are lined up to follow. In the last few weeks, I have stumbled across a few moments that caught me off-guard. One such moment happened in Kingston, Nova Scotia on the Friday night before the course opened. It was about 7pm and I was pounding out a tee pad in a white pine forest with sandy ground. The sunlight created the warmest ambient setting and I looked up for a moment and thought to myself, "this is my job and I couldn't possibly love it any more than this". It was a moment of bliss that I can still hold onto. There have been times where I have struggled mightily to find a deep happiness in my life. More than once I have felt like it wasn't "working", whatever that means. Those people who know me well, know that I am deeply sensitive and that I hold onto my failures much more than to my successes. I haven't given up my optimism yet or in my belief that somehow me building disc golf courses will make the world a slightly better place. I am not perfect, but I try. I am honest, but not always right, and because of this, I know that I still have a lot to learn. Consider this post a confession that the more I do, the more I fail, and I am sorry about that, but at this present moment in my life, I am not ready to stop creating. Each course I have built has a "worst hole", but that doesn't mean the course is bad. I accept my failures as a part of my learning, and hopefully people can take me for all that I am, and not just the worst parts of me. In turn, I will try my best to do the same.