By Barry Maher
One of the most successful young executives I’ve ever known walked away from an unlimited future because he was terrified of not being able to live up to the astonishing record he’d established. He was terrified of being shown to be not quite as good as everyone had come to believe he was. It was like a rookie entering the major leagues, hitting .432 with 74 home runs, winning the MVP, and then retiring. Because he was afraid that the rest of his career would tarnish his achievement.
It probably would have. In baseball terms, that young executive probably never would have hit over .360 or .370 again. When they put up his plaque in the Business Hall of Fame in Mishawaka, Indiana, it probably would have noted that he barely averaged 65 home runs a year. Or maybe he wouldn’t have had a Hall of Fame career. Maybe his career never would have been much more than outstanding, or remarkable, or good, or OK. Or even fair or poor.
At least he would have had a career.
Unfortunately, he was more concerned with maintaining his image than succeeding. He gave up what he wanted to do–which means he failed–because he was afraid of failure.
Too many of us do the same–if not quite so blatantly. And often without even having the achievement. Too frequently we’re afraid of tarnishing what amounts to a lack of achievement.
Here’s my suggestion. Discover whatever you’re most afraid of failing at and, as soon as possible, go out and FAIL at it. Unless it’s skydiving or tightrope walking or surgery or some such (in which case please ignore this particular suggestion), you will find that:
1) It didn’t kill you,and2) It didn’t kill you.
3) After you do it, after you’ve already failed, most of the time there’s no longer much to be afraid of.
If it’s not something you can actual rush right out and fail at, envision failure. Is it any worse than not trying? Or trying in a half-hearted way, hoping you can save face if it doesn’t work, and virtually guaranteeing you’ll fail?
Every one of those people whose opinions we’re all so concerned about has failed at one thing or another. Some of them are afraid to try to fill their own glass because they’re afraid that if they failed, we’d have a lower opinion of them.
I always tell audiences that fear of failure is a lot like fear of tummy tucks. Or butt lifts, breast implants or hair transplants.
I, for example, have a hair transplant. This is, admittedly, a vain and probably dumb thing to have had done. I’m hardly good looking enough to be the kind of guy you’d consider vain about his appearance. But when faced with the prospect of being bald, guess what? To the surprise of virtually everyone who knew me, myself included, it turned out I was as vain as the next guy. Maybe vainer; the next guy didn’t bother to have chunks of his scalp sliced out and crammed into little holes elsewhere on his head.
But that’s not the point. The point is, that once you have a hair transplant–or, I suppose, a tummy tuck or butt lift–virtually everyone you mention it to will confide that they’ve considered some form of cosmetic surgery for themselves. A great many of them will tell you they wished they had the courage to go ahead and do it.
We’re far more alike than we are different.
Don’t have the hair transplant. I can’t comment on the butt lift. But as for failure, go ahead and fail. Some people will envy your courage. Will others think less of you? Probably. Let them. Do you really value the opinion of anyone who’d prefer that you never tried rather than risk failure? Besides, that type of bozo will think a lot more of you once you eventually succeed.
And if you never succeed? I’ve always liked what Teddy Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Why worry about any “cold and timid soul?” Unless it’s your own. As George Bernard Shaw said, “A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” Consider your past. What do you regret more, the times you’ve failed or the times you never tried? What would you prefer to look back on in the future?