In honor of Brene Brown’s new book Braving the Wilderness hitting the shelves today, I want to talk about her signature subject: fear and vulnerability. For me, these two things are inextricably intertwined with Failure. Failure with a capital F.
Failure is something I strive to avoid at all costs.
When I fail, it shakes me to my core – I question everything about myself: my past decisions, my self-worth, my life goals. Seriously, I can’t explain it, but failure triggers a downward spiral in me. Like I can’t do anything right.
Which is why it’s hard for me to make myself vulnerable, to expose myself to the possibility of failure. It has held me back from taking a leap of faith in many instances. When I’m fearful, it’s all I can do to push myself forward through the fear.
I have a confession to make. I’m a perfectionist. I seek external reinforcement for my decisions, work, and behavior. I want reassuring compliments about my work, my appearance, how I’m living my life. When someone criticizes me, I tend to get defensive. I feel like I’m a disappointment, that I’ve failed. And to be honest, my mind spins out pretty quickly. Suddenly, I’m the worst person/ worker/ creative/ sister/ wife/ friend ever.
Sigh. It’s exhausting.
But really, it comes down to one thing: fear.
I’m afraid of being rejected, of people “seeing through” my act of having my shit together, of being a successful human being, whatever that means. Because I don’t have my shit together. I really try, but sometimes…just no. I used to be ashamed to admit this. But now that I’m in my forties, I really want to shed these unhelpful practices. There’s no room in my life to feel this way anymore – like I have to impress people, or at least not piss them off. I’ve struggled with this, but I’ve now reached a point where this thinking doesn’t serve me. Not anymore.
I think most of us go through life avoiding what scares us, in one form or another. I don’t think I’m alone in this. While I like to get all Oprah Winfrey motivated, sometimes the fear just wins.
But here’s the thing: I don’t want fear to make my decisions, to rule my life. I don’t want to let my unrealistic expectations for myself derail my hopes and dreams. I must remind myself that I have failed, and it has never broken me. Failure is real, but it’s also subjective. One person’s failure is another person’s…well, you know the rest.
If you are afraid of failure, I ask you to take on a challenge with me: confront one of your fears in some way THIS WEEK.
It doesn’t matter how big or small. If you’re afraid of taking on a new project at work, accept the challenge. If you are afraid of asking a woman out on a date in person, strike up a conversation with a stranger and see what happens. Whatever the particular thing is that you’re afraid of, try addressing it. Write down how you felt after you confronted your fear – was it terror, relief, peace??
I think if we take these baby steps to move past our fear of failure and rejection, it will slowly help us to distance ourselves from valuing the results so heavily. We can refrain from judging ourselves so harshly, and perhaps that will allow us to not judge others so harshly, either. We can all take a step back from placing such important on how other people perceive us. After all, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one.
And as my friend Craig says, who knows these things because he was a monk for 30 years: “Looking back on your life, what was ever worth the worry?”
Thank you Brene for writing about such an important subject.