Wednesday, August 31, 2011


A few years ago I wrote the following article for our school newsletter. While the focus of the article is on kids and teaching it is perhaps relevant to running as well:

"Developing The Disappointment Muscle"

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to re-connect with an old friend and colleague Erik Weihenmayer. Erik and I had worked together in the late nineties at Phoenix Country Day School and had parted ways in 1999. I had gone on to work at The Head-Royce School in California and Erik left the school to pursue his dream to climb the “Seven Summits” – the highest peak on each of the seven continents. This is, of course, an incredible triumph, what makes it even more amazing is that Erik Weihenmayer is completely blind.

On the day he stood atop Mt. Everest Erik became the first blind climber to ever climb to the “top of the world.” As one might expect, that accomplishment did not come easily. In the early weeks of the expedition, Erik and his team worked their way up and down the mountain establishing base camps and rehearsing their climb. On many occasions during this training phase Erik and his team became frustrated and concerned. On their first attempt to cross the infamous Khumbu Icefall Erik required thirteen hours for the crossing. Most teams manage to cross the icefall in six or seven hours. They were in trouble. Confronting the tallest mountain in the world they were worried, anxious, and increasingly disappointed.

At this point Erik did what he had done since going blind at the age of thirteen, he turned his disappointment into success. Erik refused to let the fact that he was blind and, therefore, slow, deter him. In fact, the adversity motivated him. On the day that his team began their final assault on the mountain they crossed the Khumbu Icefall in an incredible five hours and a few days later they stood atop the world’s highest mountain.

Through hard work, discipline, and the tremendous desire to turn disappointment into success Erik and his team overcame the early frustration inherent in their situation and found the strength and fortitude to make it to the top. In the process, they made history.

By embracing his blindness and seeking out difficult challenges Erik developed a strong “Disappointment Muscle.” A psychologist friend of mine has spoken about this “muscle” and suggests that too many of us have poorly developed “disappointment muscles” as a result of too many years of being shielded and protected from adversity in an attempt to stay happy and content. As parents and teachers we must be aware that our kids need disappointment and adversity in order to find ultimate success.

Only through building resilience and courage was Erik able to climb the “Seven Summits.” By building the strongest disappointment muscle he could, he found his way to the “top of the world.” In that story, there is a lesson for us all.


Emma Nicole said...

Thank you for posting this. I have been dealing with a lot of disappointments recently and this blog totally changed my perspective on them, and how they can help me grow as a runner instead of inhibit me.
I really appreciated the insight!

The Suffer Seeker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Suffer Seeker said...

Wow, this mirrors my thoughts for today as well. The one question I have, though, is how you manage to continually hit your mark without your own experiences with recent disappointment?

Risto said...

Awesome blog! As a father of two boys I totally agree.

MtUnpaved said...

Nice post thanks