Food for Thought

Stacy Dikareva

Let me ask you this: what would you do differently if failure was not only improbable, but impossible? Would you be more open and candid with someone new in your life? Would you apply to that job or academic program you always thought was out of your league? Would you re-write that intimidating admissions exam? Or would you perhaps do things as you’ve always done them? If you chose the latter, I applaud you. I wasn’t sure how to answer this question when my life coach threw it out to me at the end of our last session. “Food for thought,” she said.  “Fear of failure is our biggest obstacle to achieving the things we want.”…my brain has been churning this statement ever since.

In my introspective quest for the answer to this question, I decided to turn it around and throw it out to a few of my friends first. My friend Tanya, a graduate student in museum studies at U de M, took a brief moment and confidently replied she didn’t think she would do anything differently. Given her history, this answer didn’t surprise me much. Tanya immigrated to Canada a few years ago, learned French and subsequently enrolled in graduate school to follow her passion for all things art related.  Another friend of mine echoed my sentiments and admitted that she, like me, didn’t have an answer.  There are just too many ‘what if’s’, we thought, to simply throw caution to the wind and see what happens. Clearly, this has been my thought pattern ever since I can remember, intricately woven into my subconscious network of synapses, cautiously governing my next step. Or so I liked to believe.

This point was further emphasized while catching up with a friend at a party last weekend. We got to talking about his recent promotion at work (congrats, Mike!) after he had applied internally to two positions. One was a ‘safe’ choice that he knew he was likely to get and the other position was one he was told was way out of his expertise and seniority level. Mike was almost immediately offered the safer position, but he would have to wait on the answer regarding the ‘riskier’ one. The conundrum he then faced was accepting the promotion already on the table and forgetting about the latter option, or letting that opportunity go to someone else and waiting to see what would realize of his riskier endeavour. Ultimately, he turned down the offer that was on the table and shortly thereafter ended up landing the position he was told he was unlikely to get. Hurrah! How incredibly bold, I thought. I had to inquire about his thought process on taking such a chance. Mike’s response was a cool and collected one. “People think too much about what others would think about their lack of success and not about what they really want.” Yeah, no wonder he’s the boss now!

Putting together my recent discussions about fear of failure, my own beliefs and actions, along with my friend’s leap of faith has really made me re-evaluate my thought process and behaviour. How many times have I self-sabotaged simply with my limited thinking? More importantly, how do you even quantify or qualify failure? Isn’t every job/ grant application, interview, or meeting a learning experience in itself? There are really no clear-cut criteria for success and failure as it turns out! Surprise! Next month on my blog- ground breaking evidence indicating the world is round after all. Cheekiness aside, it’s amazing how relatively simple this concept appears to be and yet my ego has been incredibly successful at keeping me from seeing it as such.

I am now trying to consciously pry the steel threads of negativity and fear from my thoughts, one fibre at a time. Gradually opening up to the idea of throwing caution to the wind, forgetting what anyone or I for that matter would think about the end result and just going for it; pretending for the moment that failure is impossible.  


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