Can you imagine how many great ideas, projects, dreams, ambitions the fear of failing has taken to the grave?
And what about all the time and energy we spend thinking about what might go wrong and what people might think that prevents us from taking action on the deep work we’re really supposed to be doing?
The fear of failing is cunning and the impact is real. Let me give you a personal example. It may seem odd, but in the pursuit of becoming a better writer, I spent a significant portion of time not writing, paralysed by the fear of people ridiculing my words, judging me incompetent and marking me as a failure. I did my best to protect myself from failing, sugar coating and pondering over every sentence I wrote, tip-toeing around, making sure I didn’t rock the boat too much.
As time went on, I got tired of masking imperfections, and the more I spent reflecting on failing, the more I realised that the only way through on the path to becoming a better writer was to be willing to bleed on the page, put myself out there and actually write.
I began to reframe my perspective on failure, and here’s what I realised:
We are all professional failures. We are failing every single day. Those forgotten keys, missing that bus, being late for a Tinder date, or the rice sticking to the bottom of the non-stick pan because the sodding heat was too high. Although some people are better at disguising failure than others, let’s get real – we’re always failing, because that’s how we learn, and it’s completely human.
Why do we give failure so much time and attention? And why do we overestimate the risk of failure, while underestimating the risk of inaction?
It boggles my mind how we spend hours and hours crafting cunning stories and narratives in our minds, wrestling with our egos over reasons why we are not worthy enough to do the real work, while simultaneously showing the world that we are a perfect, linear success through social media. The glorification of failure gives us a reason not act and do; it’s one of the subtlest forms of procrastination and ultimately prevents us from getting on with the real work we are meant to be doing.
Talent is overrated. I challenge you to show me a successful person in any field who did not put in the work to get where they wanted to be. All the people you idolise – the musicians, the artists, the writers – they have crawled through the shit, failed enormously and beaten on their craft to get where they are.
The problem is that we don’t see the work that goes on behind the scenes; we only see the final product which subtly meshes in all of their failures. For many successful people it’s their passion for their craft that overrides the prospect of failure, which enables them to put in the hours to get better and receive immediate feedback that they can act on, instead of spending time procrastinating and focusing on what might go wrong.
We want to preserve our egos, and we care an lot about what other people think about us. But when you really get down to it, we’re all inherently self-interested. Nobody really cares whether you fail or not, because most people are too concerned with their own failures to spend time worrying about yours. To extend that, nature also doesn’t care either – you are going to die soon, and when you do, the prospect of failing won’t matter much anyways.
An Alternative Perspective
In order to confront the failure predicament, we need to change the way we look at it and reframe our perspective. Failure implies that you have stopped and given up, but that’s not in our vocabulary, so what about looking at things as if they were an experiment?
Just like a scientist does. He comes up with a hypothesis, sets up the conditions for testing that hypothesis, then proceeds to gather feedback through experimentation. He receives results from the experiment, perhaps some anomalies (note, he doesn’t call them failures), adjusts accordingly, and carries on testing until he has a big enough sample size to address the original hypothesis.
During this process, the scientist doesn’t worry about what might go wrong, or what people will think. No. He jumps into it, because he knows fine well the best way he can gather results and feedback for his hypothesis is by doing.
Let’s also take children as an example; they are mini scientists and the best experimenters out there. Take yourself back to when you were a kid. When you were learning to walk, you’d fall over, cry a little bit, wipe all those tears away, then get back up and get on with trying again with new feedback. The prospect of failing didn’t apply because you approached everything as if it was an experiment. You had what Zen masters call the beginner’s mind and you knew (perhaps without even knowing) that the only way to get better was to put yourself out there by taking continuous small steps and acting on all the feedback you received on your journey.
How different would life be for you if you adopted the beginner’s mind and looked at getting better at the things that scare you as if they were an experiment, just like you did as a kid?
Paradoxically, most people don’t like the prospect of failing, but to become great at anything, you must embrace a curriculum of never ending failure.
Ultimately, the art of getting better at anything requires that you show up and do, so once you accept the consequences of failure, you’re naked, you’ve put yourself out there, and there’s really nothing left to lose.
I’m with you all the way, and remember, you’re much more courageous for giving it a shot than those who criticise yet don’t walk the path themselves.
So to finish, here’s my question to you:
What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
written by Daniel Beaumont, Wednesday 15th November 2017
About the Author
Hello everyone, I’m Dan – a 28-year-old social entrepreneur and writer from the north of England, living in Bucharest, Romania. I’m currently writing my first book about my 4-year journey around the world seeking wisdom and life-lessons from everyday people I met hitchhiking and Couchsurfing.
I discovered that travel, if approached with the right mindset, can be life-changing, and a trip combining travel, purpose and introspection is a great way to learn, challenge oneself and change for the better. Now my mission in life is to share what I’ve learned to inspire others to embark on their own journey of self-discovery and use travel, entrepreneurship and technology as a means to make the world a better place.
I’m also the founder of Podstel – a vision to help humanity belong and grow by creating a worldwide network of ‘homes’ that bring locals and travellers together to share their stories, passions and skills. The first two Podstels are open and thriving in Bucharest, so if you’re passing through, be sure to come and say hi, or stay the night with us.
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