Mental Ruckus: On Embracing Fear & Failure
I consider myself to be a writer. But am I, really? I don't actually spend that much time a day writing. I spend plenty of time thinking about writing - planning topics, hoarding quotes, and ruminating on ideas - but it's a rare occurrence when the words are actually formulated and ejected out of my brain. And I'm not going to beat around the bush or try to create some kind of poetic lead-up about trying to figure out why this is the case, because I already know what my problem is: fear. Fear of failure, fear or being bad at something, and fear of not knowing what I'm doing.
A few days ago, Seth Godin wrote a post on his blog that really struck home for me. It was about how we as humans tend to avoid fear by indulging in our fear of fear. He says that most of the time, we're not actually avoiding the thing we fear itself; instead we're simply trying to avoid the emotion of fear that is associated with that thing. The alternative, he says, is to dance with it. To seek out the interactions that will trigger the resistance and might make us uncomfortable.
I had never thought about fear in that way before, as something that could be sought after. I've only ever focused on avoiding it with all my might, and in the process of avoiding it I've turned it into a monster that attacks me on the daily. But to instead acknowledge the fear, embrace it, and own it? That, my friends, is a concept worth investigating.
This blog is a creative outlet for me, but I often stifle myself with my stubborn need for perfection. Posts won't completed, and sometimes won't even be started at all, because of the "what if" factor. I have written about this so many times before, but it has still continued to plague me. And I think that's because I've been spending all of my time trying to outrun my fear instead of stopping, turning around, and taking it into my arms. What would happen if I grabbed fear, looked it in the eye, and said, "You are a part of this experience I am having. What I am doing right now might be new and unknown, and I might totally suck at it, and I might make a mistake, and I might completely fail, but that is a part of the human experience, so you're coming along for the ride, buddy"? Would my whole world fall apart?
Embracing the fear is a good first step, but it's not enough. Failure must also be taken into consideration. Failure is a very possible outcome of doing anything new or taking risks, so why try to avoid it? Why not embrace it along with the fear? Fear of failure itself is the greatest fear of all for many people, and therefore deserves more of a hefty bear hug than an embrace.
I also think it's important that all of this fear and failure hugging not be kept private. We only stunt our potential and even the potential of those around us if we try to hide our shortcomings from the world. Everyone has some kind of downfall and everyone has failed and everyone is scared of something, so why not share them with each other? If we're hiding our fears, we're not truly embracing them. If we share them, we grow as human beings and are an example to others that it's okay to find growth themselves.
A couple of weeks ago I came across the concept of the Failure Bow. The Failure Bow is a technique developed by improvisation teacher Matt Smith, and though it is mainly used among improv actors, acrobats, and athletes, I think it's super handy for anyone who has a fear of messing up in front of other people. How it works is this: instead of cringing whenever you make a mistake, raise your hands in the air, announce, "I failed", smile, and move on. By acknowledging the failure, you are taking away its power over you, and are putting the control back in your own hands. You remove the shame of failure and instead take ownership of it and allow it to be a normal part of life.
Obviously the Failure Bow can come in many forms; you don't necessarily have to raise your hands in the air every time you mess up. You can take a written failure bow in a blog post, or take a verbal failure bow when discussing something that went wrong with a friend or colleague. The point is to not avoid it and instead acknowledge it so that it can be dealt with. And if you make the Failure Bow a habit, it can actually alter your physiological response to failure, because it removes the fear and anxiety about future failures and makes you more open to learning and trying new things. Pretty cool.
So what does all of this mean for me as a writer and photographer? It means I am going to allow myself to go headfirst into new projects and concepts. I'm going to keep myself open to writing bad paragraphs, taking bad pictures, messing up, falling down, etc. etc. I'm going to seek the things I am afraid of and purposely take them on knowing that the only result might be failure. I'm going to take a Failure Bow when necessary, and then move on. I'm going to stop trying to hide my imperfections and instead embrace them and allow them to be seen by the world so that others can feel free to do so themselves, and we can all grow and improve as a result. I'm going to be honest about my shortcomings and fears, embrace them, and overcome them, one by one.
At least, I'm going to try. And that's really all that matters.