The other day I was reading Real Simple Magazine, and I got to the section where the editors ask a question to the readers and print a handful of responses. The question readers had answered for this issue was “If you knew you wouldn’t fail, what would you try?”
It garnered a range of responses, from being an astronaut to going skydiving, and while it was neat to read all of these people’s dreams, for some reason it kind of depressed me. There were some pretty simple goals in there; very few of them were outlandish or completely out of the realm of possibility. It made me want to get all of their contact information and write them emails saying “What are you waiting for! You can do this! And if you fail, at least you’ve tried! The only sure way to fail is not to even try!”
What is it about the possibility of failure that strikes fear into the hearts of men? I wonder how many of us live the life we never wanted or expected to live, purely because we were afraid to try what we truly wanted to do. We have this beautiful quality when we are young, this fearlessness that allows us to believe we can do whatever we want to do, be whatever we want to be. And yes, some of that is naïve, and we realize as we grow older that our dreams may have been out of our reach. But I think more often the world gets the better of us, and all the messages of “just get a job” and “you’ve got to settle down” and “you’re probably not going to succeed at that” drown out all of the hopes and dreams we have grown up believing could one day come true.
I get it, we have bills to pay, houses to take care of, children to raise. Life is busy, and often it’s just not practical to reach for the stars. But I don’t ever want to let my little to-do lists or my desire for stability to keep me from accomplishing the goals I’ve always had in my heart of hearts, the hopes and dreams that come to mind when I lay my head on my pillow at night. And I certainly don’t want the mantra “what if I fail?” to have its way with these dreams, to keep me from even entertaining the possibility of “what if I succeed?”
When I decided I wanted to get into writing, the only experience I had was in my journal. I was sitting at my desk at a music publishing company, typing the same names and numbers that I typed every day for a year into the same computer program I opened every morning at 9 and closed every day at 5:30, and I realized I needed something else. So I set up a meeting with a friend of a friend, who set up a meeting with the editor of a magazine, who for some reason decided to take a chance on me and let me write a few short articles for them (she may have been a bit unstable, in hindsight). And just like that, I went from journal writer to published writer. Maybe it was desperation, maybe it was confidence, maybe it was naivety, but I didn’t let any fears keep me from putting myself out there. And that small step has made all the difference in the world.
Nothing monumental has happened in my writing career since that day. I’ve plugged along, writing when I can and where I can, reaching out to new people and slowly gaining more experience. I’m still honing my craft, still finding my place in the world of writing, but ever since that day my editor took a chance on me, I’ve been a writer. And I know that for the rest of my life, I will be a writer, no matter what that looks like.
I don’t want to teach my children that they will be whatever they want to be when they grow up, that they will definitely be successful at whatever they put their minds to. But I want to teach and show my children that while failure is a very real possibility, fear of failure shouldn’t be an excuse. We will fail in life, that’s a certainty. But in order to succeed, we at least have to try.
Maybe it’s time for you to ask yourself, “If I knew I wouldn’t fail, what would I try?” And then maybe, if you’re feeling fearless, it’s time to throw out that part about knowing you wouldn’t fail, and go ahead and try it anyway.