Fear Stunts Our Potential

Diamond Head from the Makiki/Tantalus trails

Diamond Head from the Makiki/Tantalus trails

I love watching old movies. I guess it makes me feel young and carefree. Or, maybe, it takes me back to a time when I didn’t have as many failures looming in my past.

Yesterday, I watched the first 20 minutes of Back to the Future and I was reminded that the attitude we have regarding failure is passed on to our children as well as those we have deep influence over. As an example, my mother always rewarded individuality even if it meant you went to school with pink hair. However, she was risk-averse which meant that I was a very unique teenager (with slightly pink hair) who was so afraid of failing that I refused to get my driver license until after my 18th birthday.  I mean, what if I fail?

I’ve changed quite a bit since then. I may not have the entrepreneurial spirit of my grandfather but I have come to appreciate the beauty of calculated risks. I’ve found that under great pressure, people let go of their neurotic fear of failing simply because they don’t have any other choice but to try again. When people experience triumph after failing, they realize that almost anything can be overcome. However, the first few times are really scary.

My stomach used to practically turn inside-out when I had to give a oral presentation and I have taken at least one zero in English because I couldn’t bring myself to stand in front of the class. My turning point came after I finished an exercise class and the instructor said it would be the last one.  No more lunch-time classes because she was moving off the island and there was no one to take her spot. I really needed this exercise outlet because I had two high energy children. You can’t take the only 60 minutes I get away from my children! I screamed internally. Do you know how stressful it is to be cooped up in a foreign country during monsoon season with two very active children? Yeah. That was my breaking point. I weighed the pros and cons and decided that being stuck in the house with the kids was worse than being embarrassed in front of my fellow exercisers. I soon began teaching and made monumental mistakes along the way. However, none of the participants realized my mistakes. They all thought I was the expert and they were the ones missing the cues.

I would have missed so much if I had stayed in my comfort zone. I’ve met new friends as a result, seen parts of the world missed by the average person, and discovered that I can be a pretty cool person (flagrant attempt to pat myself on the back). And, even if I am the biggest dork, I like who I’m becoming. I wouldn’t miss the views, experiences, and laughter in order to avoid being temporarily lost on a trail, meeting armadillos, or separating my shoulder.

What will you miss if you choose not to take calculated risks? A lot!
Sunset at Ala Moana

Sunset at Ala Moana

Nature's progress in the absence of man

Nature’s progress in the absence of man

  • Breath-taking views of forgotten trails
  • Nude beaches (La Jolla has one if you’re visiting San Diego)
  • Seeing cougar tracks in the snow along with tracks of a small herd of deer spooked by the cougar
  • New hobbies
  • New friends
  • Learning that men of all ages love to pee off of anything high (like a dock or a cliff)
  • Finding your purpose in life
  • Finding the love of your life
  • Eating ice cream at sunset after snorkeling with manta rays
  • Searching for truth
  • Phenomenal self-esteem and excellence (see above for the flagrant pats on the back)
What will you miss if you don’t take calculated risk? Not much.
  • “I won’t get embarrassed.” ~ Yes, you will but it will be over something else. This is similar to the thought that ‘people won’t make fun of me’. There will always be mean people out there who will make fun of you. No one is immune; celebrities, athletes, and even philanthropists are targets of bullying.
  • “I won’t get fired.” ~ You might still get fired because people who don’t take calculated risks also don’t produce as much or head off problems as efficiently as those who are proficient at taking calculated risks. Some people live by the adage, “The tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut” but I would hazard a guess that you are not the ‘tallest blade’ and, if you are, you may be taking risks vice calculated risks. There is a difference.
  • “I won’t get hurt (physically or emotionally).” ~ Possibly. Protecting yourself from hurt is a powerful motivator. Our current society loves reality television because it allows us to live vicariously through someone else. We let someone else stand in for our adventures and the risk of getting hurt. However, how can we connect with family and friends if we don’t have shared experiences outside of reality TV? What will we talk about when we putter around the retirement community? And, more importantly, if we spend more time following Kim Kardashian’s life than connecting with our sister, whose death will we grieve more?
  • “I won’t be remembered as the greatest failure.” ~ Negative, Ghost Rider. People who remind you of your failures are simply bullying you and bullies will attempt to make you feel bad about even the most innocuous situations. I know that hurts because, sometimes, the people constantly bringing up your failed attempts are your parents or siblings or spouse or “friends”. These are the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally so the thought is that they would never say anything that wasn’t true. Wrong. They are bullying you. Period.

On that note, though, let’s look at some of sports biggest “failures”.  ESPN posted a list in November of 2014 of players who ‘missed’ the most shots.  It is interesting to see that the NBA player with the most missed shots is Kobe Bryant, Bret Favre has the most incomplete passes in the NFL, and Pete Rose holds baseball’s record for the most ‘outs’. These are great players so how can they hold the ‘worst’ records? It’s simple. Every attempt increases your likelihood of failing. It is not failing that makes you a failure. It is failing to try again that makes you feel like a failure.

How do you handle the fear of failure?

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