I spent a good deal of my life paralyzed by the fear of failure, dancing around the perfectionist bear trap. I was afraid to try anything because I was scared to fail. In some ass backwards way, I thought that failure would lead to me living in a van down by the river. In reality, grim resignation to a van-bound existence os so much more likely to happen if I refuse to even try.
So many people limit themselves this way. They become convinced that they’re better off not trying, than to try and fail. That’s because logic dictates that if you fail at something, then you are, by definition, a failure, and most of our fragile egos can’t handle that kind of assault.
That is pure, unadulterated horse shit.
The list of things I am a failure at is ever-growing. It’s growing because the list of things I am trying is also growing. Know what else is growing? The list of my successes.
The list of successes is growing because, through failure, I am learning about what works and what doesn’t. I am honing my skills. By learning what does not work, I am acquiring information on how to do things right(ish) the next time.
Here are the two possible approaches to trying something new:
1.) Try it. Potential outcomes:
“Fuck. That didn’t work. I’ll do xzy differently next time.”
“Fuck yes! That worked! That’s how you do that! Let’s do it again.”
2.) Don’t try it. One potential outcome:
“So there’s this thing I really want to do but I might experience some negative emotions if I do it wrong, so it’s better to never do the thing that I really really want to do and nothing will change and everything will just stay the same forever and ever and I’ll never get any of the things I want because they’re not going to just fall out into my lap through the skylight of my van.
The choice seems so obvious. If only our egos and feelings were so easily persuaded by logic. You have to be able to look past the pain, potential embarrassment, and self-doubt to find the lesson just waiting to be learned…the one that will get you closer to success.
At this point in my writing, old, fearful me says, “AJ, who the fuck are you to give self-improvement advice?”
New me says, “ Well, I’m a person who has self-improved exponentially over the past 2 years soooo…maybe there’s something there that can help others.”
Experiential learning (i.e. the “hard way”…my all time favorite) is the most valuable resource we have. We try things. We read things. We collaborate. We keep what works for us and chuck the rest. If something has worked for me that I think could work for other people, that’s reason enough for me to share it. I wish more people would share what works for them and not hold back because because they feel like they have no formal authority to speak on it. It’s fucking empowering to both the writer and the reader when an idea resonates, especially one that helps both parties grow.
That’s what my love of failure is all about. Learning to embrace the f-word has been a game-changer for me. Once I removed the fear of failure from my life by acknowledging what failure can do for me instead of to me, I more closely resemble the person I want to be than I ever have before.
The next step for someone attempting this paradigm shift is learning to manage the negative emotions that accompany failure so that you’re not scared of them anymore. That requires cognitive reframing and tolerance for pain and possibly embarrassment. That’s where the hard work begins, but making the decision to be okay to go out there and really fuck some shit up is more than half the battle.