A 12-month-old baby knows a lot about failure. Every time she lets go of the coffee table to attempt a step or two – thump! Failed again. Of course the easiest way for our cute little one to avoid failure is to give up on the idea of walking. It would be so much easier to just sit and let Mom bring the bottle.
There are a couple of reasons why that toddler keeps trying. First, the world looks pretty big and exciting and you can cover a lot more ground on two feet than on all fours, so it’s worth the effort. But more importantly, she hasn’t yet got the memo that failure is a bad thing. There’s no shame in falling on your butt when you’re 12 months old. In fact we grown-ups think it’s pretty darn cute.
But by the time we’ve grown up, been formally educated, got a job and taken responsibility for ourselves, our family, our children… they’ve managed to thoroughly convince us that failure is the worst possible option, to be avoided at all costs. And that’s when most growth and learning stops.
Most people I meet spend an inordinate effort to avoid failure of any kind. Which, don’t get me wrong, is a pretty good idea when you’re flying a plane or doing heart surgery. But it’s a major obstacle when you’re trying to grow as a person. By assiduously avoiding failure, we also avoid innovation, creativity, growth and breakthrough thinking. We stay carefully in the rut we occupy and discourage looking from side to side.
Those people, on the other hand, that we all respect and wish we could be like, well they encourage, embrace and endure failure on their way to the successes the rest of us admire. And the faster they fail, the quicker they grow.
Wanna fail faster?
That toddler knows far more about failure than you or I do and she’s not afraid of it. That’s why she learns faster, grows quicker and laughs more often. When was the last time you were glad you fell on your ass?
There’s a cute little movie from 2006 starring Queen Latifah called ‘Last Holiday’ in which she plays a shy, unassuming store clerk. She longs to be a professional chef and records her dreams of a better life in a journal labeled, "Possibilities." But rather than stepping up to her possibilities, she carefully saves her money for that rainy day, never colors outside the lines and lives a drab, unfulfilling life. When she’s diagnosed with a fatal illness and given just a few weeks to live, she liquidates her savings and embarks on her dream vacation.
As she’s contemplating the dream life that never materialized, she reflects, “Next time... we will laugh more, we'll love more; we just won't be so afraid.”
Are you deciding from a place of fear?
How many decisions do we each make every day? A few big ones, dozens of mid-sized ones and hundreds of tiny, little choices. We like to believe that we’re rational, logical humans and that we arrive at our choices and decisions with equal rationale and logic. But the truth is that virtually none of our decisions are made from logic, they’re made from a place of emotion. And far too often, the emotions that drive our decisions are fear, anxiety and self-doubt.
“If I go away with him for the weekend, what will my Mother say?” “What if my boss sees that I posted that on Facebook?” “I don’t have the nerve to tell my partners that I want to start my own company.”
There are two sides to every decision
Every decision has two sides – one is to go after what you DO want. The other is to avoid what you DON’T want. The first is made from a place of faith, courage and growth. The other is made from a place of fear.
More often than not, though, we’re completely unaware of these dynamics. It wasn’t until I was well into my 50s that I began to realize how many of my decisions had been made to avoid things I was afraid of or because of self-limiting beliefs I’d picked up along the way. I spent most of my adult years with unstable finances because I grew up believing that it was only other people who could be rich. I undervalued my services because I was afraid my customers would leave if I charged more. It took 60 years for me to finally take up painting because I doubted I would be very good at it.
What decisions have you made from fear or self-limiting beliefs? What decisions are you facing now?
How to test for courage or fear
Here’s how you can tell the real motive behind your choice. When you’re in the process of making a decision, even a little one, get quiet for a moment and try this statement: “I’m deciding in this way because…” If you finish the sentence with a list of the negative outcomes you’ll avoid, you’re deciding from a place of fear. But if you can finish the statement with a list of the benefits you and others are going to enjoy, then you’re deciding from a place of courage and possibility.
You’ve heard the old challenge, “What would you try if you knew you couldn’t fail?” That delicious little thought experiment always opens the flood gates to our dreams. A smile comes over our face, we sit up straighter and start to recite our favorite bucket list items.
How many of your decisions are made from a position of courage and confidence? How many from a place of fear?