My Four Letter Word
Remember back when you were younger and you were asked "what is your greatest fear?"
The usual answers included things like height, the dark, spiders, dying, or things that go bump in the night. For me, the only answer that I ever remember giving is a word that not a lot of seven year olds would or even should fear, but it's one that I've always hated the sound and meaning of - failure.
What is it about the word failure that is so terrifying to me? It's like a curse word in my mind. I've been trying to resolve this as an adult working in an industry and company that embraces and even encourages repeated failure. It praises people who "rise from the ashes" and pave their own path through failure. The word has somehow become synonymous with success and innovation.
But I am still so scared of the concept of failing. It's a vicious cycle because this fear has often led me to wonder "will I ultimately fail in this industry because of this fear?"
I don't like to admit it, but I am naturally pretty risk averse. I'm also a very self-aware person and my own best friend. I don't particularly enjoy talking about things that I'm struggling through with even my closet life companions. I like "completing" a phase in my life then neatly journaling, processing, thinking, and reflecting on it - and then sharing it with the outside world. Inviting others into my process has always felt risky and too vulnerable.
But I'm trying to be the most authentic version of myself that I can be.
This will be one of the few posts where I discuss my inner self and thoughts publicly. I do so with the intention of hopefully encouraging some of you who may also struggle with this idea of sharing in the process of growth with others.
My fear of failing has been a pivot for a lot of my life decisions.
When something seems unlikely to succeed, I find distance. When something doesn't come easily to me, I don't want to risk spending more time pursuing the practice of it. If I'm given the option between stability and the adventure of the unknown, I'm sorry to say that I usually choose the steady course.
I'm beginning to unpack some of the reasons why I fear failure so much. Through this, I'm learning that if I could just reframe the idea of failure in my mind I would be able to overcome a lot of the uneasiness that comes with decisions big and small. As a child, failure meant that you were unable to ultimately achieve the dreams and goals that you set for yourself. It was a lifelong state that rarely changed under your ability or will. In a way, it equated to be stuck in a very unfortunate and painful circumstance. It also meant that you had to live with the burden of feeling unaccomplished - mediocre.
I'm realizing that a large reason I am so afraid of failing is that I grew up in a house with first generation immigrant parents who had an incredibly difficult time settling into the U.S. I myself was born in Memphis so I felt every bit American - but I was constantly reminded of my "otherness" while I watched my parents struggling.
Financial stability ultimately became my obsession at a pretty young age. I wanted nothing more than to never have to worry about money for the rest of my life once I became an adult because I felt that I had my fair share as a child. Constantly moving from state to state and being the new girl in school caused me to develop a hard shell of safe ambition - one that always followed the rules and played it safe. The perfect student and citizen. Failure was not an option which meant I that I rarely stepped out of my comfort zone.
Fortunately, my comfort zone was very much in the realm of being an overachiever. I was very active as a child and young adult. I was almost too involved in school and extra curricular activities. My college applications were filled with volunteer experience, leadership roles, awards, and extracurricular activities. My parents praised me for always "going for it". My mom always told me about how she admired my fearlessness. But I never really felt so brave. I knew that everything I did was out of fear that I wouldn't be accepted into a good college and that I'd somehow be "left behind" by my peers.
This sort of student routine doesn't always translate well into the working world. There are no more final exams, no more semesters, no more guidance counselors, no more organized clubs or courses to structure and guide you. All of a sudden, every minute of every day, month, year, decade is now yours to plan. I felt the immense pressure to achieve - to excel and shine. But this was unfamiliar territory to me - how was I going to brave my own path?
I still haven't quite figured out how I'm going to purposely allow failure to enter my life. I'm reworking what the word failure means to me so that I can take more risks and attempt more things that are big and ambitious. I want to be braver and dream so much bigger. I want to break down my own walls that keep me enclosed in the safety zone once in a while. I deeply desire to embrace roadblocks and challenges as opportunities to grow - to figure it out - to learn.
Part of this is realizing that not everything is permanent. Life situations change in the blink of an eye. Whatever it is that may be holding you back now will be forgotten in just a few months or years. We can't always choose what our circumstances are, but we can certainly choose how to respond within them.
I'm going to fail fast and I'm going to fail hard.