Why pushing pause on #WalkNZ doesn’t make me a failure

20190309_095443Three weeks ago, I had to turn around and walk back into civilisation when poor weather conditions and a dodgy leg forced my hand and I couldn’t make it over the second highest point on the Te Araroa trail.

I ended up in Hanmer Springs, a spa resort town in the South Island of New Zealand, for a week, eating a lot of food (notably the spectacular cinnamon swirl buns from the local bakery) and visiting two local physios a total of three times about my bung leg.

The intention was always to get back on the trail.

But when a week rolled around and the leg was no better, it was clear I needed more time off. As it was, I couldn’t see how I could walk for eight to ten hours everyday on it on the trail when after a mere 15 minutes of strolling I was in pain and hobbling (and that was without the beast of my backpack on).

It posed something of a dilemma.

I did the math.

Another week off would likely have me coming into Bluff at the bottom of the South Island for the finish sometime in mid-May. The official start of the New Zealand winter would be just two weeks later. This is was far from ideal.

And this scenario was based on the premise that my leg would be fine and dandy after a total of two weeks’ rest – something that wasn’t particularly clear. As the second physio said when I asked her how long I needed to rest: “How long is a piece of string.”

So, I made the difficult decision to call it quits on the Te Araroa trail for now – or more accurately push pause, as my good friend described it, because I have every intention of coming back later this year to continue #WalkNZ and to finish the last 1,000km.

Deciding to turn away from finishing the 3,000km adventure was gutting but the right thing to do.

Pushing on and walking the length of New Zealand all in one go wasn’t worth the risk of putting myself in danger from the changeable New Zealand weather or injuring my leg further. And there was no point in rushing the stunning South Island with its majestic mountains and remote wilderness just to reach the finish point. #WalkNZ had always been about the journey, not the destination.

That said, it wasn’t easy for me to acknowledge this was the right course of action. In the back of my head was a flashing neon sign with the word ‘Failure’.

I’d set out to walk 3,000km from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island; not to walk 2,000km this year and 1,000km next year.

In my head, as I grappled with my options, their consequences and the ultimate decision, I couldn’t help but feel that any situation where I didn’t complete my aim of walking the 3,000km north to south this year had to be tantamount to failure.

I mean isn’t that what failure is? At least from a dictionary point of view: an omission to perform a duty or expected action; a lack of success; falling short of expectations.

This was clearly textbook failure.

But was it really?

In the hours and days after I made my decision, I’ve looked at this long and hard. I found it fascinating that comments from my Facebook and Twitter followers all said I wasn’t a failure.

How is that possible when I didn’t feel that way? Who was right?

And so, I explored the concept of failure.

The first thing I recognised was that despite not walking the full 3,000km, I had still walked 2,000km of the trail (or technically 20km short of 2,000km). That’s two-thirds of the trail; more than half. And in that I have achieved something I didn’t initially think I could do.

I don’t think that’s failure.

Furthermore, I attempted a dream, and during those 2,000km I overcame fear and pain and obstacles, both physical and mental. I had plenty of opportunities to not start the walk and then plenty of opportunities to decide to quit when the going got tough. But I didn’t.

I don’t think that’s failure.

So, although by the dictionary definition I failed to succeed in meeting my expected goal, it is a leap to therefore say that, as a result, I’m a failure. It’s a subtle difference but one I think we all get caught up in.

Indeed, I’ve reasoned, it’s not that I am a failure but rather that I just “think” I am. And thinking I’m a failure is not the same as being one. Just as thinking I’m useless is not the same as actually being useless.

It’s ironic perhaps that part of the reason it took me three years before I was able to tie up my hiking boots and start walking the Te Araroa trail was because I was scared of failing, of not completing the 3,000km, of realising that my self-doubt was correct and that walking the trail was something I couldn’t do.

If I failed, I thought, it was evidence that I wasn’t good enough; that I was just as useless as I thought I was.

I feared I wouldn’t be ok; that failing in my goal would dub me a failure; that it was something I wouldn’t be able to move on from; that I’d never be able to succeed; that I’d always be not good enough.

What changed so I took the risk of walking the trail, of embracing the possibility of failure, was the realisation that by not doing the walk I was also failing – failing to try.

Suddenly, for me, failing to try eclipsed the risk of failing to succeed. I had to test myself and see what I was physically and mentally capable of.

2,000km later and I think I’m starting to get a pretty good idea.

I’m physically and mentally stronger than I thought I was – indeed, stronger than I thought was possible. How can that realisation ever be classed as failure?

But now, having faced the fear, the reality, of failing in my quest, how have my perceptions changed?

Well, I know that that fear of failure was ungrounded. I may have felt at first like a failure at having to push pause on the walk but the ground hasn’t opened up and swallowed me whole.

This one setback – if you want to be negative and call it that – hasn’t seeped into and defined the rest of my life.

I’m ok – more than ok really. The funny thing is, I always was and I know I always will be.

And I’ll be back to finish the trail.

Life has a way of working itself out. And that’s why I’m not a failure. This deviation from my intended goal is just part of the wonderful journey of life.

18 thoughts on “Why pushing pause on #WalkNZ doesn’t make me a failure

  1. You haven’t finished the trail yet but you have proved your doubts about yourself were totally unfounded. Result. Congratulations Kat. Hope your leg heals soon. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Failure isn’t a word or concept I accept.
    It isn’t in my vocabulary and when I hear the word I always ask what the person meant by their use of it. I usually find they mean something else.
    They dictionary definition of failure actually doesn’t have negative connotations – it’s only socially we’ve come to view failure as a negative concept.
    If I WAS to describe failure as a concept it would be the lack of expected achievement of a goal due to unwillingness to try when otherwise ideal conditions for achievement are met.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not so sure Katrina. I think failure is so entrenched as a social stigma that the vast majority think it’s a negative regardless of personal perceptions.

        I guess I just do the best I feel I can, or want to, do in whatever I’m attempting and don’t think in terms of success and failure.
        I think the closest I get to a concept of failure is fleeting disappointment in a goal not reached. But then I move on as I also have fleeting feelings of satisfaction in equal measure as I achieve other goals.
        Interesting subject. You’ve enabled me to think and share a little on a subject I don’t usually contemplate 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Katrina, I’ve had internet problems, hopefully fixed now, so only just got a chance to comment. Yes, you were, are, and always will be ok. Your thinking is so right, this pause is part of the journey. Some people spend all their lives and never learn some of the things you are learning, you are open to it all and a thinker so you know you are good enough and always will be. Love from Leigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Katrina,
    This is the first time I have looked at your site for a while. My initial reaction to your post was not “boo, failure”. It was “HOLY SH*T, she walked 2000km, that is hard core!” Sometimes I dream about taking a trip back to NZ to ride the 3000Km Tour Aotearoa Brevet, but I have never considered walking it. Sounds like you made a smart decision. I am confident you will get to the end once your knee heals.
    On a related note, I am currently getting physio on my right knee due to random popping and swelling. It is the result of trench digging around the house. I didn’t walk very far to cause it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Brendon. I like the idea of hard core. If you dream about the cycle ride then you have to do it – starting is always the hardest part. It could also be a good reason why you have to stop trench digging ;). I hope your knee fixes itself soon.

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  5. Pingback: Life after #WalkNZ: Return to normality | Katrina Megget

  6. Great blog – came across your story via the TGO website. Will look out for you coming the other way on SI this Dec/Jan as I’m due to head north from Bluff on 8th Dec. I’ve also had lots of self doubts about going it alone so maybe we can do a reciprocal high five somewhere on the trail!

    Liked by 1 person

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