Sometimes, to get to where you want (or need) to be, failure is unavoidable. But don’t let it discourage you from trying–failure is as much a part of life as succeeding.
Not long ago, I printed a meme and taped it to my computer screen. It seemed just the panacea to diffuse anxiety concerning the standstill I faced each day. These are the words that have summed up and defined my mental state of late:
“Don’t fear failure: fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today.”
For the past five years, since losing my full-time job as a columnist and journalist for a major newspaper group, I’ve felt as if I’m swimming in the same spot in one of those Hydropools. It’s as if I’m flapping my arms and kicking my legs yet going nowhere.
Immediately after the big layoff, I rebooted—slamming the pedal to 80 mph during the fevered months I researched and whipped through the first draft of my new novel. As soon as I started the rewrites, terror struck. What if I put years into this and no one offers a publishing contract?
Wasn’t it better to stall when others asked how my new novel was going? To just continue saying ad infinitum: “Almost finished. On my ninth draft right now.”
I read somewhere that Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times before getting the light bulb to work. When someone asked him why he failed so much during the process, he purportedly said: “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention of 1,000 steps.”
Initial plans were to have my novel finished within a year. As of today, I’ve seen four Christmases, four birthdays and as many Fourth of Julys pass with little to no progress. So what happened?
I would hesitate to call it procrastination. Maybe a little, but the principal reason sprung from downright poltroonery: I was a big chicken that refused to peck my fears until they crumbled.
Since I was a child, I’ve been at war with my terror: atychiphobia—the fear of failure. I can remember trepidation and panic striking as early as first grade. The teacher promised a View-Master (a toy stereoscope) to the first student who read 100 books.
I read the books, won the contest, and took home my toy. The entire process left me riddled with anxiety, as if a bomb were ticking and I couldn’t read the books fast enough.
It’s human nature to set goals, so when we sit on our dreams and do nothing, we often become depressed and agitated.
For me, the solution is taking small steps to reduce the disquietude such fears set loose. I’m realizing failure is as much a part of life as succeeding. It’s rather like the law of averages. If you fail more, you’ll succeed more. And just because you fail a time or two or 1,000, this is in no way indicative of the status quo of one’s life.
A few months ago, I inhaled a round of deep yoga breaths and clicked on the computer to my novel-in-progress. I could feel my heart pounding and my anxiety, like a sorceress, was coaxing me to just give up. So much easier to avoid failure by not trying, my mind seemed to say. When in reality, real failure is just not trying.
Instead of giving in and running, I allowed the fear and experienced the ensuing emotions. So what if I write an entire chapter that’s worthless? I can pull a Thomas Edison and scrap it until I get it right.
I’ve begun to realize as I get older, that I fear regret much more than failure. So each day I sit at the keyboard and work on my novel. Some sessions are good, some not.
For me, the key is starting small and keeping the momentum. If fear strikes while I’m working towards my dreams, so be it. I know with certainty that if I don’t try, I’ll be in this exact same spot another year.
Printed as ” Viewpoint: Fear of Failure,” Spring 2019
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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