I love this picture. Partly because when I first look at it, I can sense a slight feeling of embarrassment within me. It’s not a picture of me looking really cool effortlessly walking across a highline. It’s a picture of me falling, or “failing.” Not the type of picture that you’d typically post on social media. We don’t often post unflattering pictures of ourselves, or talk about the times when we experience failure. We view failure as embarrassing.
But no one is immune to failure, and we all experience it at one point or another. Knowing this, what is there really, to be embarrassed about? If you never experience failure, it probably means that you’re no longer trying anything new. You’ve confined yourself to a set of activities that you’ve already learned. ‘
Failure is a necessary component of any eventual success – there are very few things that you will do perfectly the very first time you try. Failure is healthy for you, and anyone who’s ever experienced success can tell you that. Failure is how we learn & grow as individuals, push ourselves out of our comfort zones, and remain humble in knowing that we don’t quite know everything.
We should be proud of ourselves for trying new things, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed to fail. Yet for some reason, many of us are embarrassed by failure, even if it’s only on a subconscious level. We don’t want to look like we don’t know what we’re doing in front of others. We’d prefer to stick to what we’re good at.
In my experience of teaching folks how to slackline, I’ve become used to encountering this fear of failure, which manifests itself as a reluctance to even attempt learning in the first place. This occurs in individuals of all ages – from middle schoolers not wanting to “look stupid” falling in front of their friends, to parents who don’t want to be seen not succeeding in front of their kids. Sometimes I’ll see people try it out once or twice, experience failure initially, and then walk away saying that it’s not for them.
“I’m a football player, I don’t walk on wires.” It’s common for people to point to something they’re good at in order to deflect from their weaknesses. They’d rather stick to an area that they’ve already experienced success in rather than venture into new territory that will require failure in order to progress.
This isn’t just the case with slacklining. We make these kinds of calculations in our lives all the time. “I’m a math person but I could never be a writer” or “I couldn’t possibly cook food that tastes that good, I’m not a chef.” Most of us have at least a few of these self-limiting beliefs that we’ve developed based on how we’ve spent our time in the past – what we consider ourselves to be good at and what we don’t.
We close ourselves off from new opportunities and from trying new things all the time because it doesn’t fit into our vision of who we are and what we are capable of doing. The reality, though, is that we can all do almost anything we set our minds to if we are willing dedicate the time and effort, and be ok with an initial experience of failure.
Of course, there are some people who just don’t want to slackline, or become a writer, or learn how to cook well. They simply don’t want to dedicate their time and energy to learning how to do those things – and that’s perfectly ok. You don’t have to learn every skill or participate in every activity.
But whenever you make that choice, you should be sure that it’s based genuinely on how you want to spend your time & energy and not based on any fear of failure or preconceived notion about what you are and aren’t “good” at.
Recognizing my fear of failure when I step onto a highline helps remind me of the difficulties of trying to learn something new and unnatural to you. Highlining scares me, and it pushes my boundaries in a pretty intense way. It would be easy for me to walk away from it, and stop trying to progress in that area. I could just stick to what I’m already good at and only walk on slacklines over the ground.
But I still want to highline badly enough that I’m committed to pushing through my own fears & failures to develop this skill, and I know that in time I’ll be a lot better at it than I am now. I recognize that this same formula applies for any new thing I want to try. For example, writing this article.
There is a part of me that loves writing, enjoys the process of it, and thinks that I am good at it. There is another part of me that is afraid of actually putting words down onto the page, and then sharing those words publicly. There is a part of me that thinks the actual writing is never quite as good as the idea I’m trying to write about it. The recognition of this fear is all the more of a reason to write and publish anyway.
This may not be the best piece of writing I’ve ever produced, but it’s something. And if I keep writing & sharing, failing & learning, it’s likely that I’ll get better at it, the same way I’ve gotten better at slacklining, and the same way I intend to get better at highlining. Whatever it is that you want to do – start doing it – embrace your failures along the way. Your failures are what will contribute the most to your success.
– Jesse Goldman