Dr Ollie Hart: Learning from failing

  • 4 min read

Life is about learning from hardship and setbacks. Here Dr Ollie Hart presents a very personal account of his father’s death and the life-lessons learned.

Ollie Hart’s father with his grandchildren

I am a local GP, and I really wanted to write something for this site. I really like the idea of people supporting each other, and sharing a little bit of their story. I’ve read some great pieces that have both made me laugh and cry – both emotions that make me feel alive.

I am lucky. I’ve not had any major mental health issues….so far. This is probably more luck than anything else. I am lucky, to have been nurtured and protected through life, and lucky to have been born with genes that code for a lot of happy neurones! But I know that we are all vulnerable to mental illness. I work with so many people who are less lucky, and understand the huge impact that mental health has on individuals and their families. It is one of the best parts of my job when I am trusted to share someone’s road to recovery. I am glad to say that in my experience most people I see with mental health issues, come out the other end wiser and more insightful into the ups and downs of life. But of course not all, for many it is a lifelong battle.

The story I want to tell is of my experience of failure. Being a typical performance driven medical type I’m not used to experiencing failure. Good grades, busy social life, respectable job etc etc. But this year I had a big failure. My Dad died 2 years ago of Motor Neurone Disease. My sister and I wanted to take on some kind of challenge to raise money to help the fight against this awful condition. It needed to be something big and ambitious, because he meant so much to us. Typical of us both really to try for some ‘achievement’! We set our sights on a 24 hour challenge in the Lake District. It was tough, but our experience has been that if we trained and committed we’d make it, just like most other challenges before us.

For more than a year we trained, planned, and bought kit. We set up support crews and check points. It was a big deal, a big event in memory of our Dad, lots of sponsorship money pledged.

We were nervous but confident, life has conditioned us to think that way.

We set off with firm resolve. But it didn’t go our way. Through a bit of bad weather, a couple of minor injuries, and in truth the sheer enormity of what we’d taken on, we gradually saw our goal slip away. These endurance events are always a mental game, but this one had higher stakes. At around half way through the 24 hour challenge we started to realise we weren’t going to make what we had pledged to do. It’s amazing how quickly despondency seeps in. With it tiredness and the overwhelming desire to give up. What would people say? Especially those who had sponsored us? What about our support crew waiting for us? And worst of all, what would our Dad, a man of the hills, have thought? We continued for 24 hours, but fell a way short of the distance we needed to cover to fulfil our quest.

Ollie and his sister after their endurance event
Ollie Hart and his sister after their endurance event

So at this point a little more about my Dad. He spent all his life as a Maths teacher. But he had far more of a passion for the pastoral side of the job than the algebra. He believed in the holistic version of education. It’s why he much preferred taking kids on adventure trips than rules in the classroom. In fact at times he had been known to get a little confused when unravelling complex equations. This earned him the nick name  of Dimbo, amongst the kids. For a time I was a kid at his school. Not easy being the son of a teacher named Dimbo. But it never bothered him- ‘water off a duck’s back’. He maintained the most important thing of all was to treat everyone as equal. ‘Always make friends with the cooks and the cleaners’ he’d say.

At his Funeral 400 people packed out the church. They didn’t come because of what he achieved, they came because they loved him for what he was. Everyone had a story about how he’d made time to understand them, listened to them, or enjoy banter. As kids it used to drive us potty that he stopped to chat to everyone, but in the end that warm-hearted friendliness defined him. It was probably a big part the ‘lucky genes’ I inherited.

So I reflect on our ‘failure’. At first we were disappointed. But 6 months on I look back at the bigger picture. A year of great times discovering the Lake District with our 2 families, of time to listen to each other on long walks, and to laugh about good memories of Dad, and fantastic support from great friends. Dad believed in heaven. If he’s right and he was looking on, I suspect in his wisdom, he would have orchestrated our failure. Because we learn much more from the dreams and goals that we have, but don’t make. He knew that your achievements matter so much less than how you are with your fellow travellers.

Since the summer many people have asked me if I’ll have another go…. ‘unfinished business’ they say. I’ve been thinking about it – of course. But in writing this now I realise I won’t. I don’t need to. It was a pretty good failure, I’m comfortable to leave it at that.


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