Today I want to talk about something I have been thinking about recently. And that is the idea of failure:
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” ~Elbert Hubbard
I’ve written on perfectionism and self-doubt before – and you might be like, “Yeah, yeah, Jill, we get it, don’t be scared to mess up, got it, thanks!”
But we still don’t really get it.
Because if we did, we would be taking a whole lot more action. We’d be putting ourselves out there more, we’d be harnessing the courage to take risks and look stupid and say what we feel and show up as-is.
But we are still struggling to do all that.
I still do at times, too. It’s hard, I get it. Harnessing courage and taking risks and potentially looking stupid or saying exactly what we feel puts us in a position to experience discomfort. It makes us vulnerable. It opens us up to potential struggles and opposition and criticism and–gasp!—outcomes that are sucky to deal with. And experiencing sucky outcomes sometimes makes us feel like we suck.
Which is actually not the case: just because we experience a failure does not mean we are a failure.
This distinction took me a long time to understand.
As a recovering perfectionist, potentially messing up was unthinkable. It was much easier to only put myself out there in places I knew I’d be successful – safe pursuits where I was in control 100% of the time.
But something started shifting for me about 5 years ago.
I realized I was living a familiar, comfortable life where I was never challenged. And while security and certainty felt nice, they were keeping me small, scared and unfulfilled. I wanted to do more, be more, help more, create more, reach more women, but I was stuck in place because I was scared of messing up.
What would happen if I tried to start a blog? Would people call me out for the fraud I felt like? What about if I started a Facebook business page? Would my friends and family find me egotistical? What if I started speaking my truth in the social media space? Would people unfriend me, think I was arrogant or self-important? What if someone asked me to cite research and said I didn’t know what I was talking about? And what about my physique??? Surely I can’t write about fitness online while at 18% body fat!! I can’t do these videos, what if someone thinks I’m fat and shouldn’t be talking about female fat loss??
And on and on and on, the excuses came.
Deflection and avoidance was easier. Simpler. If I never put myself out there, there would be no chance of making a fool of myself, or experiencing blowback. I could maintain my comfort and familiarity … and my dissatisfaction. But if I did that, my desire to find meaning in my life would remain unfulfilled and I’d continue to spin my wheels and feel ineffective.
And so a choice exists. I can try and potentially fail (or potentially win or learn!) OR I can simply continue to not try and well, definitely fail.
So over time, I chose potential failure, because I felt the bigger potential lied in amazing opportunities and experiences and invaluable lessons I could never get without doing. I felt these things outweighed the scariness of potential disappointment and struggle. I chose to trust myself to handle whatever happened.
For me, the value in failure is two-fold:
1) Failure is feedback.
We learn what works and what doesn’t based on taking action and letting the chips fall. I can do my best, work my ass off and still fall on my face. Wow. But you know what, I am wiser for it. I have more knowledge for it. And life has a lot of lessons to teach me, and the only way I start crossing them off my list is through experience.
2) Failure presents the opportunity to build my resiliency.
You might ask, “Jill, why should I care about being resilient?” and you know what, five years ago I would have shrugged it off, too. In fact, resiliency is not something you realize has value until you need it because you are struggling, because life deals you some blows and you need to harness some tools, at which point resiliency becomes your best friend.
If I could hone one single quality that would offer me peace, perspective and results, it would be resiliency.
This is THE THING that separates those who succeed from those who don’t.
Successful people don’t just have amazing luck. They aren’t sitting at home thinking about what they’d like to do. They are out doing it. And you know what, they are messing up left and right. How could they not? More action equals more chances for mistakes.
Is this scary? Of course! And it’s the main reason why many people will never realize their greatest happiness or achievement, because it’s comfy right here. Safe, secure and steady.
There’s nothing wrong with safe and secure, except realize that the way we grow, learn and get better is not when everything is going smoothly. Besides, it’s easy to be “all good” when everything’s all good, no?
We’re given the opportunities to grow when we mess up; when we stretch ourselves and miss the mark. In obstacles and challenges. In the ugly moments.
And guess what? We can let those challenges be the end, OR we can learn and try again with more information and more experience. It’s the ultimate in wisdom.
Getting over a fear of failure has to do with trusting YOURSELF that you can handle anything that happens, and also realizing that a struggle or two doesn’t mean you suck.
In fact, for me, it’s those who struggle the most that are the most qualified to teach others. And it would be a pity to see all that experience and all those lessons go to waste because the fear of putting them out there is holding us back.
For me, I feel obligated to share what I’ve learned and my stories. It’s how I contribute and how I find meaning in my life. And I know that doing that opens me up for all sorts of uncomfortable scenarios. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take because I trust myself, my process and my desire to grow and get better.
Mess-ups are level-ups. Embrace them!