Delta Goodrem sang that she was born to try, but sometimes I think I was born NOT to try.
For most of my life I have had a fear of failure bubbling under the surface that has kept me from committing to things. Which boils down to this limiting, and ultimately flawed, logic: if you don’t try, you can’t fail.
This unconscious belief came to the fore recently when Liz Gilbert espoused the value of creating a five-year plan. “If you don’t know where you wanna be in five years... you’re already there,” she wrote. I was at the hair salon so, with nothing better to do, I pulled out my ever-present notebook and started imagining how I wanted my life to look in five years. And after jotting down “have at least two dogs” and “have stayed in an ice hotel” I couldn’t think of anything.
Actually, that’s not true.
I thought of lots of other things I wanted, but I couldn’t write them down. Because writing them down would force me to commit to them. And that would mean I have to try to achieve them, running a high risk of failing.
“Writing down your goals causes a disturbance in your own soul – wakes you up, and makes you take notice of your own desires,” Liz wrote.
Well, yes, Liz. But I didn’t want to notice my own desires. Because then I would have to do something about them.
I didn’t want to write down the number of clients I’d like to have or the amount of days I’d like to work or the blog reach I’d like to be hitting. I particularly didn’t want to inscribe in words the healthy relationship I would love to be in but secretly fear I am not good enough for.
When I look back now, I can see this has been a pattern throughout my life. I have often resisted pitching big, challenging feature ideas to editors because I have been scared they’ll reject them, or, worse, commission them but I’ll do an abysmal job in bringing them to life. I have never bothered to try and save money for anything specific in case I can’t hit my target, proving myself to be completely inept.
This mindset may be something I picked up from my play-it-safe parents (this is not a criticism, BTW, merely an observation of their generation), who are, I think, proud but slightly baffled at my bravery/stupidity (my words, not theirs) in opening a reiki and angel-card-reading business, but mostly it’s due to my own subconscious desire to protect myself. I have realised that it’s not the humiliation of failure that I’m afraid of, it’s the suspicion that that failure would prove that I was not good enough to have the thing I wanted.
Some spiritual teachers are opposed to using the word “try” in goal-setting because they say it gives you licence to fail. Saying “I’m going to try and run a marathon” is less potent than “I’m going to run a marathon” because the first option makes it more acceptable to quit – after all, you only committed to trying. I can see this point, but for me there’s strength in the trying. For me, *that’s* the point of power. Because when I take action, I’ve committed.
What this five-year-plan exercise did show me was that, yes, I have a fear of failure that takes the form of not trying – but it’s not completely paralysing me. There is a major area of my life where I am doing OK on this front. My business is not going as well as I’d hoped, but I am still showing up. Because my will to make a success of this is stronger than my fear of it failing. Maybe focusing on that is the key to defeating my allergy to trying.
Now, to try that five-year-plan exercise again…
To read Liz Gilbert's post about five-year plans, click here.