I learned a lot about the lie of fear of failure from Wayne, a student of mine. He took a yoga class at a community college from me for four years. He was 65 years young when I met him, a solid 40-50 pounds overweight. Wayne was a flirt in the front row every semester I taught there.
Nothing to lose
He didn’t let age stop him from trying the more advanced asanas. When we moved to the wall to begin learning headstand, he got it in him mind he was going to do it and he did. Quite well in fact. There were always a couple of people in the class that let their fear get in the way of ever going upside down. Wayne figured out who they were and he’d be quick to put his mat next to them. “It’s easy. Look.” and upside down he went. He’d come down with a big smile and say, “Ya just gotta trust yourself.”
It really was about self-trust more than strength. It’s all physics and lever systems so if you set the pose up, a little trust goes a long way to popping up into headstand. But if that voice in the head turns on the internal Emergency Management System, “Danger! Danger! What if you fall? What if you hurt yourself? What if you break your neck and die?!” there’s no way you’ll succeed unless you’re willing to face the fear and take action anyway.
The fear of failure drives some people, while it paralyzes others. So what if you fail? We all fail. That’s part of the learning experience. Trust me, Wayne fell plenty of times scaring all of us. He’d just laughingly grumble, “Oh, I’m fine.”
What is even more frightening than failure? It’s likely not the starting over, the disappointment, or the losses that plague you. I have found more often its a fear judgement and rejection.
Taking a risk and it not working out doesn’t make you a bad person (usually…depends on the risk). At least in business, more likely your formula wasn’t quite right, communication was off, the timing or location were off, the story wasn’t told to the right people in a way they could hear it.
That internal voice fretting, “What will people say if this doesn’t work?” isn’t doing you any favors.
Wayne wore a shirt the last year I taught there that was fluorescent orange with huge, white letters “FBI” and underneath those “female body inspector”. Wayne didn’t give a shit what people thought. He was one of the happiest students I’ve taught over the past 16 years.
Fear of rejection
It takes a significant failure for people to lose trust in you and reject you completely.
Yet, we often tread lightly, play chameleon, say yes when we really want to say no (and no when we want to say yes), say/do what we think others want to hear/see just to be accepted. In doing so, we lose our sense of identity, disconnect from our internal wisdom, and begin a quest for external approval that is never truly fulfilled.
Most of the time, everyone else is too wrapped up in their own insecurities and b.s. to worry about your inequities. That is, as long as yours isn’t contributing to theirs. Most of the time, people just aren’t paying attention. Think about all the noise competing for your attention. Think about what truly stands out – genuine, remarkable, light-hearted, funny, compassionate, loving. Even with all the negativity in the ether, we’re becoming rather desensitized, a small spike in anger and frustration before moving onto the next story.
I think Wayne simply made the choice to be himself. He accepted himself as is. He laughed a lot. And he did headstands till about 6 months before his death at age 75. Running and hiding from the fear, allowing it to paralyze you or drive you to being a tyrant won’t bring you joy or peace or even long term success. But facing the fear will.
We’ll fail, over and over, hopefully learning and iterating with each failure. Who we are and what we do won’t be for everyone. Might as well do it genuinely and authentically, courageously and perhaps with a lot of laughing at ourselves along the way. If Wayne could, we can, too.
Looking for some more 1:1 guidance? Check out my mentoring program. Not sure you’re ready or it’s right for you? No problem. Check out my tea and chocolate chat– it’s an abbreviated mentoring session that simply costs you a bit of chocolate (or tea). It’s done virtually or by phone. And be sure to check out/subscribe to my YouTube channel where you’ll find the accompanying talk about moving through fear and a yoga/mindfulness practice to accompany this blog.
Also published on Medium.