“What would you be willing to try if you knew you could not fail?”
The question hung in the air like a thick fog.
I knew my friend was trying to provide encouragement and motivation. I was lamenting my “stuckness” on a current project, bemoaning the pressures of being creative on demand. She was offering a friendly ear and a loving kick in the pants, prodding me to complete the project that had me in utter frustration.
“It’s not the idea of failure that creates the fear,” I said, “it’s the way I might feel about myself if I do fail that I fear more.” She knew exactly what I meant. The discussion wasn’t a new one between us. We had both had our share of those identity-threatening emotions that come with a job tried and failed.
While this conversation between my friend and I was almost two decades ago, the ideas expressed can still hold true for me. The experience of failure can still incite all those emotions.
Perhaps you’ve experienced them too. Rejection. Shame. Anger. Feeling less-than.
Often those feelings are all-too-familiar echoes of voices from the past. Those feelings can trigger memories of times when we experienced rejection or shame as the result of trying in a relationship and failing. It can take us from feeling as though we failed “at” something, to feeling as though we failed to “be” someone.
To a certain extent, I can see how the connection between what we are doing and who we are, can run deep. Particularly in situations where whatever it is we’re trying to accomplish is deeply rooted in our passions and interests. It is highly possible that we can amass all we need to increase the likelihood of our success in a given area and still decide not to try.
Research shows that more than lack of preparedness, or resources, or education, the number one reason people don’t accomplish their goals is fear of failure.
Just this week I faced down multiple thoughts of failure as I was crafting my manuscript.
· “What if no one reads it?”
· “What if my writing isn’t good enough?”
· “What if I can’t finish it?”
· “What if it doesn’t help people the way I’m hoping it will?”
Distracting myself from those thoughts was all too easy. After all, the dishes needed to be done. The dogs needed to be walked. The ice cream needed to be eaten.
But then I came to the Lake. And it is here that I must make a creepy confession.
I love bats. (I promise, this is going somewhere. So just hang with me. [Oh, and see what I did there?])
I love these little critters for several reasons. Their so-ugly-I’m-cute faces just make me smile. Their erratic flight patterns and frenetic pace are comforting and relatable. And of course, who doesn’t love a critter that helps control the bug population. (Take THAT mosquitos!)
But do you know what my favorite thing is about them? It’s the thing that I couldn’t wait to share with you.
Bats must fall to fly.
It’s true! Look it up. (It’s ok. I’ll wait…)
They don’t take flight from a stable perch as birds do. Getting airborne from the safety of the ground isn’t an option. If a bat really wants to learn to soar, they will have to learn to fall first.
Thinking about this tidbit of National Geographic worthy info helps me think about the mind shift necessary if I am to meet the challenges I am called to meet.
Here is the inspiration I found in my winged friends: what if I traded the word “fail” (or fall), for “learn”? What if I began to see and celebrate my failings as the learning and growing opportunities they are?
What if I embraced failure?
What if, starting today, we not only encouraged ourselves to try, without fear of how failure might feel- but also invited others to join us?
What if we spread the word that in order to soar, we must first be willing to fall?
With this in mind, here is the challenge:
Think of one thing, no matter how big or small, that you want to try.
Now, write it down. Seriously. I’ll wait. Again. (Cue Jeopardy music.)
Now, think of one step you need to take to make it happen.
Now, write that down.
Now, guess what I’m going to ask you to do. Yep. I want you to take action.
Just do the “one thing”.
Then the next thing.
And the next.
And the next.
You get the idea. And celebrate your tries. Not just your successes.
Now, you might be saying “Gina, I don’t think this is an issue that I struggle with.”
That might be true. But perhaps before you shuffle on past this, ask yourself these questions:
· Do thoughts like “I’m not sure how this will turn out” ever prevent you from trying something new?
· Have you ever avoided trying new things or sharing an idea or opinion with others for fear of what they might think?
· Have you ever put off starting a new habit/hobby/project, even though it could improve your life or the lives of others because you were afraid of what failing might feel like?
If you answered “yes” or even “maybe” to any of those, then perhaps this blog is more for you than you first imagined.
And then there’s this.
For those of us who believe in God, we must consider that if God has called us to do something, if we bring what we have to the effort, then fail or succeed, that will be on Him. If you were created for it and called to it, then step into it. The reality is that sometimes, the bigger benefit can be found in what we learn when we try and fail, more than the benefit of celebrating when we try and succeed.
Now, I realize for all I’ve offered here, it is unrealistic to think that fear will simply leave and leave for good. While what I’m suggesting might sound simple, I know it is far from easy. Particularly when it comes to trying anything that strikes close to the heart of who we are. And especially when it might be our second or third or thirtieth try. I get that. I really do (if you need to, re-read this blog as I talked about the fear of failure assailing me just this week.)
But in spite of feeling the fear, I’m going to ask that you make the commitment to try your tries anyway.
Oh, and one more thing. You can certainly try this with something small to test the waters. OR- you can take another tip from our little bat friends. Their best chances of flight are when they first fall from the highest of heights. The lower they are, the less chance they have of soaring.
Whether high or low, big or small, I’m believing in you and celebrating your tries today. And if you happen to succeed? Well, we can just look at that as all the more reason to try more things in the future.
Want to dig deeper into creating a healthy inner voice that helps you "push back" on the fear of failure? Check out the following resources:
Feel the Fear. And do it anyway by Susan Jeffers, PhD
The Self Confidence Workbook by Barbara Markway, PhD. You can find these books and more www.itsmyoutloudvoice.com/resources.
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