I’m considering this as a possible regular feature. Let me know what you think, and feel free to send me those thoughts and quotes that you’ve found useful.
I’m starting one of my two jobs this week, and one day in, it feels like I’ve been handed a moth-eaten top hat, dropped between an arthritic dancing bear and a cage full of hungry lions, and instructed to run a three-ring circus. NOW. Not knowing how it’s going to go–or even where it is supposed to go–has me pretty clenchy.
If you can’t make a mistake, you can’t make anything.
That quote is from Marva Collins, an educator who spent her career working with underprivileged kids who were being written off as learning disabled or otherwise ineducable. She gave her students challenging material (Plato’s Republic for fourth-graders?) and set high standards, but also created the kind of environment where students felt safe to dig around in their own heads, try things out, and, well, fail.
It’s a great gift to allow someone the freedom to fail, and it’s not one that I’m likely to give myself. A lot of people fear failure as if it is something avoidable (not always) shameful (not really), and worst of all, permanent (not on your life). I think women particularly feel the pressure of perpetual success, and even of perfection, given that in many arenas we still must do more and better than the average dude to be considered equally competent.
The fear of failure, though, can work like a vise on creative thinking and productive work. “I’m going to screw this up” can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, or it can just result in mental lockjaw. You can’t fail if you don’t try, right? Why do something if you can’t do it perfectly? If it doesn’t work out, they’ll know I’m a fraud. I’ll do it after lunch/tomorrow/next month/when I’m “ready.” No one deserves that kind of pressure.
I am, as perhaps you’ve guessed, terribly familiar with this kind of thinking, even though I know that it’s far more destructive to my mental health and ability to work than just about any professional “failure” (a crappy draft, a boring lecture, an inelegantly run meeting) could be. So, as I’m caroming around, trying to figure out just what it is I’ve gotten myself into with Barnum and Bailey University, I’m trying to remember to give myself the freedom to fail, so I take the chances I need to take and try out all the ideas I have to try.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one who could use a reminder.