Every great thing that has happened in my life has come on the heels of taking a risk. Whether it was the risk of getting rejected by my (now) wife for a fifth time, the risk of moving to a new place and things not working out, or the risk of putting my words on a blog and being ignored, risk has and always will be what I call “the great deterrent of success.” Risk has a way of convincing otherwise capable and confident people that they aren’t good enough, qualified enough, or talented enough to be successful. And yet risk is unavoidable. Getting out of bed in the morning is risky, as is commuting to work. Eating Thai food is especially risky and not recommended. And listening to Dave Matthews Band is just down right foolish. But is it really risk that deters us?
At the root of risk is a fear of failure: Fear that I will put my whole self into something only to have it rejected. Fear that I will try and not be good enough. Fear that I may take the risk, reach out, try hard, make the move, or ask the question…and fail miserably. The pain of failure never feels good. And, because of that fear of failure, we count ourselves out of things that we would otherwise excel at. In fact, a fear of failure is likely what keeps us from diving into our passions headfirst to find a more fulfilling vocation. After all, receiving a steady paycheck from a stable job is pretty comforting. There’s nothing comforting about plunging into your passion and letting it take you wherever it may go.
So before we can ever gain the courage to identify our passions and pursue them we have to ask the question “is it worth it?” Is it worth it to you to potentially experience failure, even on a massive scale, and admit that it didn’t work out?
Of course, I think the answer to that is it’s ALWAYS worth it because when all is said and done the worst that can happen is admitting defeat, learning from it, picking yourself up, and trying again…or returning to the old life and chalking it up to experience. Stable paychecks and steady jobs will always be there to fall back on, even in this economy.
I witnessed an interesting phenomenon recently that was rooted in the fear of failure. At work, I help select and coordinate a small group of students who act as an advisory board to our leadership department. They are tasked with providing us feedback, collaborating on programs, and being ambassadors for our initiatives. Historically, students have either been appointed or have expressed interest and have been selected. This year we sent an email to all of our past students asking them to simply email us if they were interested and to include a brief explanation of what they felt they could add to the group. We were surprised by the slim number of submissions — we had thought the advisory board was more of a draw. Several days later, after talking with a few students, we discovered that many highly capable and qualified students had decided not to apply at all because they looked at their peers who may also be applying and didn’t feel they could compete. They turned themselves down for the program before ever applying! I repeat…they turned themselves down. Many of them may have been fantastic candidates. In addition, even if they weren’t selected this year we may have been more likely to consider them next year. I was baffled. What could cause these outstanding students to self-select out of the program before ever even giving it a shot?! Why would they not simply send an email with a short statement of interest, just to see what happens?? Ironically, I knew exactly why. I could empathize, and this experience got me thinking about the many, many things that I’ve counted myself out of before ever giving them a chance. Here is a short list:
Now, I don’t share these examples to illicit pity but rather to empathize. I know personally the feeling of allowing my fears to overwhelm my confidence and trump my strengths. Looking back, I believe I could have succeeded at any one of these three (and countless other) goals. And yet, before I ever got started I discounted my abilities and allowed my inner voice to talk me out of success.
So what’s the point? The point is that we generally become the main roadblock between ourselves and success! Not an application, or qualifications, or a lack of experience, but our own self-doubts and fears of failure. What a shame! But how do I get over it? Well, unlike many other self-help strategies that are complex, this one is pretty simple. Take the risk. Make the jump. Generally, the worst that can happen is a bit of damaged pride. And remember these words from Marianne Williamson (whoever that was):
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
What have you been afraid to do? What things do you want for your life and what is standing in your path?
When have you gotten in your own way? Share your thoughts below and please pass it on!
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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