Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
I’ve been pondering an article I read recently entitled, What Children Can Teach Us About Risk, Failure, and Personal Growth.It brought to the fore an aspect about myself I like to keep tucked away: I’m enslaved to fear of failure. And I want to stay that way.
Risky behavior is uncomfortable–no, it’s discomforting. I’d rather live with the devil I know than face a new devil.
But, as the aforementioned article aptly points out, I’m taking a risk whether I’m settling for fear of failure or expanding my boundaries: “If I limit myself to knowledge that I consider true beyond doubt, I minimize the risk of error but I maximize, at the same time, the risk of missing out on what may be the subtlest, most important and most rewarding things in life.”
Social science writer John W. Gardner explains why we’ve developed lives with solid boundaries we feel we dare not cross: “One of the reasons why mature people are apt to learn less than young people is that they are willing to risk less. Learning is a risky business, and they do not like failure. In infancy, when the child is learning at a truly phenomenal rate — a rate he will never again achieve — he is also experiencing a shattering number of failures. Watch him. See the innumerable things he tries and fails. And see how little the failures discourage him. With each year that passes he will be less blithe about failure. By adolescence the willingness of young people to risk failure has diminished greatly…By middle age most of us carry in our heads a tremendous catalogue of things we have no intention of trying again because we tried them once and failed — or tried them once and did less well than our self-esteem demanded.”
I don’t think it’s bad to have a list of things never to attempt again; that’s part of maturing. I, for example, feel no need to ever plunk myself, belly-down, onto a sled and plummet down a snowy hill. But other adventures might well benefit me by forcing me outside of routines and restrictions I’ve placed on myself.
“We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure,” Gardner admonishes us. “It is a powerful obstacle to growth. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents exploration and experimentation. There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure — all your life. It’s as simple as that.”
Writers live with fear of failure every day:
–A blank screen with a blinking cursor
–A new book release that might not find its audience
–A proposal sitting on an editor’s desk
–A query sent off to an agent
–A royalty statement that spells out your publishing future
Yet, even writers need to explore new frontiers, for the list above is what you already face. New risks await!
As a writer, what would you do, if you weren’t afraid?
How fear holds us back. Click to tweet.
What would you do, if you weren’t afraid? Click to tweet.
I won’t be able to participate in the conversation today because I’ll be taking some risks. I’m off on an adventure with Michelle during which I won’t have access to the Internet (will I survive?), I’ll be in a foreign country, and I’m not supposed to think about work. I’d rather speed down that snowy hill on a sled. Wish me luck!