The more I look around at the lives of my friends and family, and of the life that I have lived, the more I am beginning to understand that expression “fear of failure” may not be the truest reason why people are resistant to change or to new experiences. I mean I get it. I hear excuses all the time. I make excuses all the time. “If I could be assured of success, then I would go forward. “There are too many obstacles. It’s not the right time.” It would be simple to attribute both of these to a fear of failure. But, are we truly afraid of failing, or is there something else going on. Some other reason we don’t even try to follow those things we say we have been dying to do.
Let’s examine my life. I have tried a lot of things looking for that one thing that suits me best. In college I began as a Theater Performance major, but switched to business in the middle of my sophomore reasons. I have stood on stage in front of 400 people as a stand-up comic, made them laugh, and then walked away. I write one or two pages of fiction ideas that constantly pop into my head, but then rarely get any further. I know that I am not built to hold a 9 to 5 job, yet each time I think of some way I could cultivate a career, I try it for a week or a month, and then let it go. In my mind it is the fear of failure that stopped me each time. What if I audition for part after part and never get cast? What if I step on that stage and nobody laughs? What if I write something I believe is a masterpiece of American literature, and no one wants to read it, or worse yet, reads it and says it is crap? To me, each of these things sounds like a fear of failure, but is it…
Here’s another example. A friend continually talks to me about how much she hates her job. She is unhappy because they fired her boss. She is unhappy because she is the only one who knows how to do ten different things and so they all fall to her. And she is unhappy because all of her friends have seemingly recognized the problems within the particular organization and have since moved on to greener pastures. After listening to her for about 2 weeks, I told her to quit. (This probably wasn’t the best answer, but I was kind of tired of hearing her complain.) She was a myriad of excuses ranging from “where would I go, “ to “I can’t afford it.” These certainly can be valid, or they could represent fear, or is it something else…
One more. Woman married for a long time has been verbally and mentally abuse for years. Her husband drinks heavily, becomes argumentative, and has a host other issues that need not be discussed. For years, this woman has come to me, and others, telling us about the issues, yet has refused to take action. She says she want out, wants help, wants change, but after each and every instance there are always reasons why she won’t leave. The most popular is that she has no confidence in her ability to succeed outside the walls of this relationship. The fear of failure is apparent here, but is that really what it is…
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that in each case, mine included, that fear definitely plays a role in our inability to move forward and make significant strides in whatever we want to accomplish. If asked, I believe each of us would honestly tell you that our lives would be better if we were successful at doing whatever it is we need to do to follow a path that would lead to success and happiness in life. But, yet, there we sit. We sit, staring at the computer screen wishing magic would type itself. We sit, punching the clock for an organization that no longer has our interest or respect. We sit, waiting for the next time a husband will come through the door ready, willing and able to scream, belittle and berate. And we all know what we should do; yet we talk ourselves out it for whatever reason. Is it the fear that makes us stop and remain stagnant? Or is it something else?
Personally, I believe it is something else. I believe it goes deeper than just fear. The fear of failure certainly holds us back, but it is what comes as a result of the fear that is really what is keeping us down. I do believe we are so afraid to fail that we are afraid to try, but that’s because the comfort of failure is holding us dormant. We have become so comfortable in our places of failure that we can’t imagine life any other way.
Let me explain using the above examples.
My friend, who desperately wanted to get out of her work situation, was scared to leave because of money, or her lack of ability to work elsewhere. She was scared to fail at something else because she was comfortable with the money she was making. She was comfortable with her co-workers. She was comfortable with knowing that each and every day she was going to get up at the same time, go to work to do the same things, and come home to the same situation. She didn’t have to think about all the different things that could go wrong if she left. Despite how awkward it was to work for people she no longer respected, she was comfortable with being uncomfortable.
My life is filled with this idea that the comfort of failure holds me back. While I try things once or twice, I let the immediate failure put me back on the couch. That’s certainly comfortable. When I read a book that is clearly better than anything I have written, I let the failure I feel turn me to the TV. That’s certainly comfortable. When I have an idea for anything I think of all that is involved, become frustrated with the seemingly endless tasks and go back to folding laundry or washing dishes. That is most definitely comfortable. I am living life in the comfort of failure. And it becomes so comfortable that I doubt my desire to try any of these things again.
The woman in the abusive marriage is also showing how comfortable failure can be. Clearly, her marriage is in a state of desperation. I won’t say that it is over, but I will say that without severe help and change it will continue along the same path that it has been going down for years. She is at a crossroads. She can choose to either change the status quo, either by confronting her husband and demanding they seek help, or by leaving and giving him the wake up call he needs. But, she doesn’t! Time and time again the excuses flow as to why she can’t get up and go. “I have no where to go.” “I won’t be able to get a job.” “I have no ability to make it on my own.” Each an every one of these excuses may be valid in some respect, but they all show that in some way, this woman has become comfortable in her discomfort. For all the complaining and crying she does to try and figure out a way to fix her situation, she, to this point, has done nothing because the comfort of failure has gripped her and held her tight.
All three of us are gripped by the comfort of failure, which has taught us that the status quo is going to make us happier, no matter how unhappy we are. We seemingly refuse to change because we are so uncomfortable with the idea that we might not succeed, that we hopelessly mire ourselves in the same muck hoping against hope that things will just magically change on their own. They won’t, and we know that they won’t; yet we won’t budge. It’s a vicious cycle that plays itself out again and again.
I wish I had a solution. I mean, usually, this is where I point out some 4-step process that will change the attitude of all of that have this problem. But, let’s face it, I have been in this state for so long now that even I don’t know exactly how to get out of it.
I already have the encouragement of family and friends to try whatever I want to do. I already have taken steps to follow some of those dreams more by auditioning for a show and getting a part. I have already started several more scripts, and other novel ideas. That isn’t the hard part. The difficulty is in seeing that long-term determination is failure, not as a complete stopping point, but rather as a stepping-stone to success.
There are hundreds of quotes from successful people that talk about how they aren’t afraid to fail. Michael Jordon, Bill Gates, and Thomas Edison all iterated how failures are necessary to ultimate success. Each of these men were determined to stay out of the comfort of failure and instead be uncomfortable in their pursuits. But perhaps, author J.K Rowling says what I am trying to say much better.
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.
I think, that at least in my case, I am living cautiously because it is living comfortably. The fear of failure has created a comfort in failure because it takes me out of a place where I will even try.
So what do I do…well beside leap into the abyss known as the unknown, I don’t know? Is that what it takes? Should I write, act and perform with reckless abandon, knowing that only through persistent hard work will there be success? Should my friend seek out her passion in order to quit her job in the hopes that whatever path she takes will breed more contentment? Should the wife take steps toward drastic change that will turn her whole world upside down, but may end up in a future where verbal abuse is not constantly degrading her mental and emotional state?
Perhaps yes, to all of these, but here is the real kicker. Only I can get myself out of the comfort of failure. Only my friend can remove herself from the source of her unhappy contentment. Only the wife can decide to move forward from delightful discontent. No one can do it for anyone else. We all have to decide to get uncomfortable and face the fear. Or we decide to be as happy as we are, even if it makes us severely unhappy in the process.
I don’t think there is a simple solution. I can say I am going to try and face the fear and get uncomfortable, but how long will that last? Will I revert to my comfort failing ways? I guess only time will tell. Time to go write!