Fear of Failure: Hunting Squirrels
As I sit in the park this evening, I watch two young boys, I'd say between the ages of six and eight, carry around two long sticks, one for each. They're hunting. It's pretty obvious by watching them that they are highly determined little fellas, and in the bright, wide open lands, I see them approach.
"Shhh! Don't scare it away!" the apparent older sibling said in a whisper loud enough to shake the wind.
I can hear the cartoon tip-toe as they slowly approach the tree, when WHOOSH! ZIP! STREAK! - there goes the squirrel. With a dart, they chase after the young, scruffy rodent; fluffy tail bouncing with each leap in playful fear. It was obvious that the children were no harm to itself and it appeared to be enjoying the game.
What became immediately clear to me was that those two little boys had no worries about whether or not they would actually catch this young squirrel, they simply kept trying. Time and again.
"Stop! Stop! Get down!" the leader of the two-pack quietly yelled. With a not-so-silent THUD! he dropped to the ground and sprawled out, hands and legs stretched so he could blend into the grass with his bright, red shirt.
His younger subordinate came screeching to a halt. Glancing around in his glowing, yellow top, he followed suit and slowly got on his hands and knees -- there was no way that squirrel would see them there now! (Evil laughter inside my head... just in my head, I think...)
With a twitch of its tail to the left, then a flick to the right, the squirrel stared on, obviously unable to see the two, well camouflaged hunters.
As I watched, I began to wonder what was going through those boys' minds. Were they great hunters striving for survival? Or perhaps they were tracking down the enemy, the Evil Dr. Squirrel. Anyway I looked at it, they were doing two things:
- Enjoying life
- Not being afraid to fail. I know this for a fact, because I had been watching them attempt, and fail, time and again -- yet they persisted with great determination.
I began to think about my childhood. At what point did I begin to fear failure? What was it that brought it on? And have I over come this issue?
For starters, I'm not going to go into my life long story about how I began to be afraid of living life. You'll just have to trust me when I say that I became terrified of failing, because failing meant being imperfect, and imperfection meant many disastrous things in my life -- none of which turned out desirable at even the best-level, I assure you. This fear of failure lead me down a road that, looking back today, simply doesn't make any sense. Nonetheless, it was the only way I knew how to protect myself, needless as it may or may not have been.
Unlike these brave children who were hunting down Killer Squirrels, I was too afraid of being laughed at. I knew that I couldn't catch that small, quick rodent, and when I had tried, I as laughed by various people for even attempting it; some knew me well, some did not, but they would laugh. Most meant no harm, yet harmed nonetheless. Some were also people who laughed, poked, and prodded because they, too, were quite simply -- sick people. So I can't tell you exactly how I came to this conclusion, because honestly, I don't know - there were many various things that lead to it, and the laughter was but one. What I do know is that I fully believed it in almost every aspect of my life -- and it was highly damaging.
With the mindset of being so afraid of failing, I asked myself, "How does one simply never fail?"
How does one never fail? I've pondered that question for years, especially after so many failures in trying. I explored many answers throughout my life, and always ended up back to the same conclusion: Just don't do.
Now, before freaking out (because that's what I would do if I read that last statement), I'm not condoning "Just don't do." Not at all! But that's what happened so often in my life -- to avoid the embarrassment, humiliation, and (perceived) attack and ridicule of failure, I didn't do a lot of things. Either that, or I would stop at the first finger-pointing. Interestingly, this is the very essence of failure -- never doing to begin with.
It's a shame, really. By the time I figured this out, I was already in recovery. It's as embarrassing now as the initial failing of the task! Thankfully I've been given tools to hang from my belt these days... and although I'm still figuring out when and how to use them, I'm starting to use them. But that takes PRACTICE. And with practice comes FAILURE. And with failure, comes answers to the lessons I'm being taught in life, lessons that I somehow managed to miss, but that I'm blessed to be able to learn today.
I'm grateful for my lessons, as painful as they often are. And more importantly than that, I'm grateful for finally recognizing that:
- It is okay to fail. It is normal to fail, we all do it, and we can all survive it.
- We can't "just don't do" because we'll never learn the lessons we need to learn in life if we don't screw up and then press forward.
- I have people in my life that can help me through my scrapes, bruises, and humiliations.
With a flick of his wrist, I watched the young tracker thrust the spear upward, sending it through the air towards a fully-suspecting nemesis who sat twitching his nose in full amusement. In a crooked spiral, the spear slowly rocketed up, up, up -- and with a CLICK! SMACK! it broadsided the tree, flipped around, and came right back down onto the little boy's nose.
Suddenly the hunting grounds snapped back into the shape of the local park as he turned and ran towards his parents and his younger sibling stared on in surprise.
We can only hope that neither of the two children take this fail as a reason to be afraid of ever trying again. With their Higher Power patiently watching above, I can only offer myself as a good reason to not allow this fear to sink into them.
But then again -- if it hadn't been for my fear of failure, perhaps I wouldn't be learning the lessons of opening up. Maybe I should just simply let go of what's not mine to hold... but that -- that's another story.
Fear of Failure: Hunting Squirrels (Chapter 1)
Editor's Note: No squirrels were harmed in the making of the children's imaginations. As for the children -- it was apparently just a scrape-and-a-scare, as moments later, I watched the park turn into a battle ground.