“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” -JK Rowling
For years I lived in terror of making a mistake. I’m not talking about a quick jump scare where you cover the people in the row behind you with your large bag of popcorn at the theatre. I’m talking about a constant, what is that noise can’t sleep type of terror that always is overshadowing everything that you do. This terror of failure made me overly cautious and risk adverse. I often imagined myself as the handsome (self proclaimed) cover model for Cautious Living magazine dressed in a three piece protective bubble suit (patent pending).
If there was risk involved, I didn’t want anything to do with it. If there wasn’t a clear outcome, I didn’t want to try it. If there was a minuscule possibility for a challenge, I would avoid it like you should elude eating spicy food if you have irritable bowel syndrome. As you can imagine, my life was very predictable. I was a creature of habit, and my habit was not to do anything where I could mess up.
Avoiding Failure Is Easy
For a long time, everything was perfect. My routine was flawless, my patterns coordinated, and my responses robotic. My behavior became so repetitious and obvious that my wife could guess my response to any situation just based on the circumstances that may be present. I didn’t like trying anything new. It made me uncomfortable. I never wanted to visit a place I had never been, talk to people I didn’t already know, or play a game where I know I couldn’t win. (Ian destroyed me at NBA 2k so many times that I gave up all sports related video games. “I don’t know what happened to the game buddy, it just turned off by itself. What did you say? Why am I holding the power button?” )
At work, I did my job the same way. I addressed client questions with the same energy and a repetitive tone. I thought that was what life was all about. I viewed it as a stretched out existence of doing the same thing over and over again and then you get to die. I thought it was created to be a long drawn out test of your patience to be grateful with what you have and never strive for anything different. At least that was how I behaved.
Avoiding Failure Is Comfortable
Being the same was comfortable. I didn’t have any surprises. I could walk into work without worrying about making a mistake that would get me fired. I could occasionally buy my wife flowers and play a game with my kids and that would be all I need to be a good father and husband. I could take the same route to work everyday to avoid traffic. I could go to church week in and week out sitting in the same seat and say a robotic amen when something that was said resonated with my beliefs. There was no internal strain, no discomfort, no challenge but there was also no growth.
What’s Wrong With Avoiding Mistakes?
I had been the exact same person for an extended period of time. Now to put this into context, imagine a 2 year old child who has aged 10 years but still acts like a 2 year old. I was older but not wiser. Difficult situations that I had faced in the past began to reappear and yet I didn’t learn from my past experience. Instead I went through the same tests over and over again never taking the time to reflect and adjust.
The truth of the matter is because I failed to grow, like a flower without nourishment, I began to wilt. The thing that bothered me most is that because I was wilting, so were the people around me. Deep from within me I felt there was something missing and I knew that there was a purpose for my life that I was not fulfilling all because I was too scared to make a mistake. At that point I made a conscious decision to change and live a life of purpose and contribution.
What Happens When Failure Becomes A Part of Your Life?
Living a fulfilling life is the opposite of what I envisioned. It is not a life of avoiding failure but embracing it. If you are not failing you are not learning. Have you ever taken a class where you mastered the material before being taught it? I sure hope not. What a terrible waste of money. But instead, you go to learn and challenge yourself for something new. You can’t get better doing something you already know how to do. When you learn something new, like a baby learning to walk, you will fall. It is inevitable. You cannot avoid it. It’s a part of growing. Recognize it as such.
A fulfilling and purposeful life is a lifetime full of strategic discomfort, mistakes, and spontaneity. It is a life of new and challenging experiences with the intent of making you a stronger, wiser, and more rooted and grounded person. Since we only have a finite amount of time to spend, why not make it an adventure? I can tell you from my experience that outside of the predictable patterns of life there is a “you” that you never would have thought could exist.
“Unless you attempt something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” -Ronald Osborn
Don’t let the fear of making a mistake stop you from living a fulfilled life. Feel the fear and do it anyway!
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