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Fear of failure - driving you on or holding you back?

Im standing at the top of an unpisted ‘itineraire a ski’ in the mountains. Below me is what seems like a never ending run of bumps, moguls, rocks, drops, and nothing but a never-ending mountain. Its been 5 years since I skied properly, my confidence has been shot due to various health reasons and personal challenges over the past couple of years and yet here I am, like a lemming, about to launch myself off the side of a mountain in the good faith that somehow I will get to the bottom in one piece…….and not only this, but that perhaps it really might not be so bad?

What is going on inside me is something quite different as I assess the side of the mountain, desperately trying to see a sensible, somewhat achievable path down. My stomach is in knots, Ive got a growing sense of panic, and my mouth is now dry as ghandi’s flipflop! I can feel my pulse starting to check its pace up a notch or 3. My eyes are flitting back and forth for a ‘sensible’ route to hurl myself downwards. My brain is telling me don’t do it. My body is yelling ‘no’, my friends are all voicing encouragement, and all the lessons I have had are resounding in my ears……keep your weight in the centre, don’t lock your bottom leg, flex it, …take your time.... lean down the mountain, it will slow you down and the brake of your bottom leg works better that way…….its all rushing through my head at a rate of knots…… fact Im now in overload………damn it I just have to STOP THINKING AND JUST DO IT!!!

I was standing on the edge of that mountain frankly on the edge of a meltdown. With a sheer drop below me, I was surrounded by a group of people encouraging me on! With tears pricking my eyes and a frog leaping out of my throat, my hands gripping my ski poles to hide them shaking - I gave myself a ‘solid’ inner talking to! “just get down this thing, stop being a wimp, commit!” And I did. I committed to that mountain - I fell over immediately because I was all tensed up but by that point I was 15 feet below the top ledge and no way was I taking my skis off to climb back up! I was doing this! If they could then so could I!

I bumped, skidded, turned, traversed, you name it - every trick in the book to reduce my altitude down that mountain! And I wiped out too. I slid down backwards, head first, soft snow and powder fluffing in all directions. Skis and legs every which way, rocketing down through the snow at a pace only to match the gradient I was on. But I was laughing all the way. I was pushing myself beyond and out of my comfort zone. I was learning something new, I was taking on my fear, I was putting myself up against a mountain. And wow did it feel good and only a little bit terrifying.

There is a saying ‘that life begins at the end of your comfort zone’, and I fully agree, but Id be more specific; you don’t learn until your put yourself out of your comfort zone. You hear it all the time - you have to be happy to embrace failure. You have to be prepared to get it wrong, over and over, until you get it right, and as in my case that whilst the mountain might seem perilous and dangerous and the scariest thing I’ve done in a long while, that actually when you do mess it up an fall and fail, the soft snow isn’t so bad….yes you bump and slide and get covered in snow, shooting head first down a mountain out of control, but you dig in a ski or wait for a bump to slow you down and then you get back up and you do it again, but you do it better, and better. That’s called practice! Surely? Each time you mess up you learn something new, adjust and try again! (and Im not for a minute suggesting that you just hurl yourself off a mountain if you cant ski, nor am I suggesting you put yourself in obvious danger!)

FEAR is not only putting yourself out of your comfort zone, its being concerned about feeling something you aren’t accustomed to, be it excitement, challenge, lack of control, judgement from others, maybe even fear of something you think you might lose (in my case break myself); there are so many variations as to why you are holding yourself back. Its our nature to want to do well, we want praise, acknowledgement, we want to ease through things, we naturally want to keep safe and protect ourselves. We feel embarrassed because we cant do ‘it’, and holds that mirror in our face to all the things we don’t think we can do, or have never done, because we might look ridiculous, we might fail or fall or slip or slide- and what is even worse in this day and age is that it’s frowned upon to fail or fall. Yet how often did you play a scale on an instrument right first time, or a piece of music? And that first time hitting a tennis ball, or drawing that diagram, or making that lego or transformer as a kid and it didn’t look like the picture? Did you ever complete the rubix cube? Creativity comes from diversity, it comes from learning, listening and watching, from failing and trying again. Confidence comes from knowing something well, doing it well and learning and pushing yourself . In building confidence we are reducing fear by building on the repetition of an action until it is seamlessly happening without thinking, completely flowing.

In the business world making mistakes is a big nono, but so often I have seen a much better solution come out of a mistake or a failure as it pushes people to really challenge what, how and why, rather than just cruising. In a team everyone learns, not just the one who made the mistake, it enrichens the whole group.

So, yes, my pride was driving me on. I wasn’t going to be ‘that’ person…….you know the one that cries and has a tantrum and walks away. No way. Fear drove me forward and down. Ill admit it was fear of losing face. Fear of failure. Fear of looking a wimp. Fear that if I didn’t do it now I never would. Fear that if I couldn’t do this then I would never get better. Fear that in fact this was the best I was, fear that I wasn’t living up to everyones image or expectations of me, and worse still, fear that I wasn’t living up to my potential and my own expectations!

So fear isn’t always paralyzing and painful, fear can drive you forward - for fear of never moving forward again. Sometimes that in itself is even more terrifying.

Half an hour later I was at the foot of that mountain, beaming from ear to ear, and every piste, col and itineraire, ledge and track seemed easy and breezy in comparison after that. Not only had I conquered my own self belief issues, but this had given me more confidence to take on everything else.

Fear becomes inordinately more manageable when we accept that more often than not we will get it wrong first time. And the saying that my old piano teacher used to say patiently whilst I fumbled over my boring scales every week…….’practise makes perfect!’ so, in every aspect of life, we should take the same approach. Whether you are an olympian, a consultant, a designer, artist, doctor, apprentice - we all have to start somewhere and most likely will get it wrong upfront but will learn how to do it right next time………and that’s ok, in fact its more than ok. Its better that we fail and learn, because surely if we dont know what it feels like to get something wrong then how do we really know how it is to get it right? And I mean really get it right! (and sometimes it can be really fun along the way)

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