Failure is daunting, in all aspects of our lives. Whether that be securing a dream job, or completing a tough workout, the notion of not achieving our goal can be paralyzing.
We can feel stuck, unsure of where to move, with backward motion feeling detrimental to our success. To Nina Williams, student and professional rock climber, failure is stagnation and movement leads to our success.
“No matter which direction we move, that’s forward which obviously is the more accepted idea of success,” says Williams. “Accepting falling backward, looking backward, and being okay with that is also important.”
Williams is a professional climber best known for her highball ascents. She completed the first female ascent of Ambrosia and Too Big to Flail in Buttermilks, California. Her other notable ascents include the 20-pitch 5.13b Father Time in Yosemite, along with the being the fourth ever, and first female ascent of Window Shopper in Boulder, Colorado. Her great achievements in this field turned her passion of climbing, into her career.
While Williams has created enormous success in the climbing world, these accomplishments did not come without previous failure. She describes one of the “darkest times of her life” as when she was caught cheating in a climbing competition.
“I look back at that time when I was really falling backwards as a young person,” says Williams. “That fall from grace for me was completely necessary because if I hadn’t gotten caught, or even if I had stopped cheating but internalized a lot of that ego, then I wouldn’t be the climber that I am today.”
Her motivation and love for climbing motivated her to, again, fall backwards when deciding to drop out of the University of Rhode Island.
“I fell out of school; I fell into climbing,” says Williams. “I hit this wall. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time, other than climbing.”
Williams eventually challenged her notion of not being a successful student by enrolling in the University of Colorado Boulder in 2017, falling upwards in school, while falling backwards with climbing.
“I love climbing, but it’s my entire identity. I’ve been climbing since I was really young, so I wondered what else is there in life,” she says. “So going back to school was my way of proving to myself [that] I can be someone else. As an athlete, my performance over the past couple years [has] certainly been effected. I haven’t been able to train and travel, but that’s okay. I accept that fault or that failure is not actually a failure, because now I’m in school and apart of the process.”
Williams is graduating the University of Colorado Boulder in May and aims to work as a life coach for athletes. Her TEDx talk, premiering April 11, 2021 through TEDxCU will highlight and further discuss her idea of failure as stagnation.
“I really want anyone to take away from my TED talk this sensation that if they are stuck, or if they are scared, or if there’s some big decision that’s been staring them in the face, to find the courage and the peace within themselves to decide whether they want to move forward,” says Williams. “Or to accept the fall, and to move backwards, if necessary. There’s always potential to move forward again, but sometimes you have to get unstuck.”
Falling upwards and backwards paints failure in a new light: a positive, in order to grow, move, and change for the better.
Register for the FREE event TEDxCU: Bounce premiering April 11, 2021 from 2 – 4 p.m. MST.
Photo by Kira Vos Photography.
Olivia is an editorial intern for Spoke+Blossom and YOGA + Lifemagazines. She studies communications, journalism and writing at the University of Colorado Boulder. Olivia is passionate about the Colorado lifestyle and works to convey this in her studies and publications.