Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Want to Leave My Comfort Zone, But It's So Comfy!

Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.
-Charlie Chaplin

Success is going from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm.
-Winston Churchill

In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.
-Bill Cosby

Andy and I have been talking recently about what is holding us back. We are two young, intelligent, (graduate level) college-educated people. On paper, we look pretty good, but somehow, that hasn't yet translated into real life the way we'd like (i.e., instead of being up-and-comers in our careers, we're working multiple part-time jobs for little pay). Why?

We've come to the conclusion that we have one big handicap that is keeping us from being successful:

We are terrified of failure.

People who are terrified of failure don't attempt difficult things, because the more difficult the task, the greater the likelihood that they will fail. People afraid to fail will take what comes to them because it's there, and a bird in the hand is always worth two in the bush. So take the safe road, right?

Unfortunately, I don't think real success comes without the risk of failure--and probably, most successful people will tell you that they have failed, often and hard. Think of your favorite writer / actor / singer / composer / athlete / entrepreneur / musician / artist / whatever . . . was everything they ever put their name to an undisputed success? I think I've been under the (mistaken) impression that failure is the worst thing that could happen to me. Now that I'm thinking about it, though, that's so wrong and so limiting.

Athletes, for example, experience failure on a very regular basis, at both personal and team levels. Even the very best athletes miss free throws, lose tennis matches, don't stick the landing, double the triple lutz, and watch championships slip through their fingers. It happens, and it's disappointing, but if you're not failing, then you're not stretching yourself enough. (After all, who dreams of being the best pitcher in the minor league?)

How do you really know your potential if you don't find your breaking point? If you only attempt things you're already sure you can do, where is the growth? When you're doing strength training, you have to break the muscles down before you can build them up. That doesn't happen until your last rep, when you're at the point that it's difficult, and you don't feel like you can possibly do another. Growth comes from struggle. Success comes from struggle.

This is all very cliché, very trite. We've all seen these aphorisms posted on the walls of 7th grade classrooms and school libraries. Why is it so hard to believe and act upon? Are Andy and I the only people who haven't figured this out yet? I mean really, even babies learning to walk do so by falling--over and over again.

There's an old (Chinese? Japanese? Buddhist?) proverb: "Fall six times, and get up seven."

So, maybe falling isn't as bad as I'm afraid it is.


  1. Oooh, these are good thoughts. I think most of us can relate. I actually had a friend who made a New Years goal to fail at something (of course, we all fail at things daily, but his was that he had to try to succeed at something big, and then fail). I think he accomplished it, but I don't know what the official failure ended up being. Might be a good goal for all of us. Or at least a goal to try something despite the possibility that we could fail.

  2. Well put. Lately, there have been many things worrying me, and this was exactly what I needed to hear. (And you say it in such a beautiful way.)
    Many things used to come so easy for me, and people assumed that I deserved it, but it wasn't until I was in grad school that I failed so miserably that I really learned. I definitely didn't learn analysis (I cried after every class), but I learned how to fail, and how to survive when everything was going wrong.
    I would say that the problem with you guys is that you are too amazing. While others encounter those epic failures early on in life, you guys are just now starting to find them. I know you guys will overcome this time in your life, and be better for it.
    I'm sending my love your way with the prayer that you shoot for something that seems impossible, with a sincere hope and desire that you can achieve, and don't be surprised if it actually works. Nothing is impossible!

    (side note: I cannot stand the "shoot for the moon" quote. It's so astronomically incorrect.)