Daily Editors' Notes

How Diana Nyad teaches us to fail better

Share this article:
Elizabeth Leis Newman
Elizabeth Leis Newman

As you may know, 64-year-old Diana Nyad became the first person to complete a 110-mile swim between Cuba and Florida without a shark cage Monday. Let's remember that she's not the oldest woman or only woman. She is the only person, period, full stop.

I consider it to be a perfectly normal human reaction if you, like myself, found my eyes welling when she stumbled out of the water and said:

“I have three messages: One is we should never ever give up. Two is, you are never too old to chase your dreams. And three is it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team."


Her words were slurred and she was sunburned and exhausted, but she will be back swimming next month to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Of the many lessons we can glean from Nyad's achievements is that there is no excuse to let an aging body stop you from exercise, or from promoting reasonable physical activity among long-term care residents. Another is, as Nyad mentioned, teamwork is often needed for even what we may think of as solitary pursuits.

But the most important is what Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon called Nyad's “beautiful failures.” She showed the “profound grace it takes to face disappointment and failure, again and again and again, and to keep going,” Williams wrote.

This was Nyad's fifth attempt, and I remember being hopeful and then sad when she had to stop on attempts in 2011 and 2012, due to jellyfish and storms. Her first attempt was in 1978, and she tabled her dream until she turned 60. You can hear her explain this in an awesome Ted talk here.

As administrators, executives nurses, students or perhaps as someone chasing a non-healthcare related dream, it would be surprising if you did not know how tremendously discouraging it is to fail. It is rarely as straightforward of whether or not you make it 100 miles: We might fail in achieving a quality goal, or we might more subtly fail residents or their family members in a lack of communication. We might fail coworkers in lacks of acts of kindness, or fail ourselves in not putting forth effort we know we are capable of.

At a certain point, you either accept the status quo, or you keep pushing. I'm not the first person to think of this famous Samuel Beckett quote in relationship to Nyad, but it's worth hanging on a bulletin board:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Elizabeth Newman is senior editor at McKnight's.

Share this article:

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.


    More in Daily Editors' Notes

    Could you make money if Mom's nursing home does a good job?

    Could you make money if Mom's nursing home ...

    A man recently raised more than $51,000 ... to make potato salad. And in a similar type of online campaign, senior living investment company Mainstreet raised more than $1.6 million ...

    Finally, a Medicaid funding plan that actually makes sense

    Finally, a Medicaid funding plan that actually makes ...

    When politicians talk about Medicaid funding and nursing homes these days, an unsettling theme often emerges: the need to spend less of the former on the latter.

    What are the scouts saying about your long-term care organization?

    What are the scouts saying about your long-term ...

    There is no draft in senior living, nor really a need for one. But what if its three most dominant players were to be sized up? How might the scouts ...