What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
The other day I was recording a course called Rotocraft Fundamentals and at the very end the instructor showed a video. I can't find the video itself (it is DEFINITELY worth a watch), but this is the synopsis here. It was an amazing speech and the speaker (Regina Dugan, Director of DARPA) was talking about flight and other technological advances. As soon as I heard that quote, I (of course) thought about running...and then I thought about motherhood. And then I thought about all the other things in my life I was afraid to do. Here is an excerpt on the TED website about the speech:
If you want to understand how, ask yourself this question, ”What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” It’s an uncomfortable question, because it forces you to realize that the fear of failure holds you back. The path to new and innovative things always contains failure, but we’re constantly afraid of it — we have to get over that fear. Dugan quotes Clemenceau, “Life gets interesting if you fail, because it means we’ve surpassed ourselves.”
If you took fear of failure out of the equation, what would you attempt to do? Running a new distance or going for a marathon PR can be intimidating. I don't know why, but we humans like to first think about all the reasons we cannot do something before we even give it a go. I used to assure Jason that I would never qualify for Boston because that was just way beyond my ability as a runner. And then I broke 4 hours. And then I ran a 3:45. They've moved the qualifying time now, giving me an even faster time to run, but even so I have begun to doubt my doubts. I read about other women my age who have done it and I can't for the life of me figure out what they have that I don't... except maybe belief that they could do it.
Motherhood is another one. That's just downright terrifying, especially if you take a look at what is going on in the world, in our country, in our schools, in our homes, in our neighborhoods... and that doesn't even take into account whether or not I'll be any good at it. But if I knew I couldn't fail...if I knew I'd make a great mom and have a wonderful relationship with my daughter one day - similar to the one I have with my mom, then you bet your buttons I'd give it a go. In order to even consider it, I had to shift my gaze to the moms I admire and say to myself, "I can do that." I have to let go of my fear. Which, I guess you can say I did, but it is not without its moments of sheer panic as I realize there is no going back now! (They are brief moments, but they are there all the same).
When I was about to marry Jason, I had a moment of panic. I had a few, in fact, and it is amazing that he didn't throw in the towel and tell me to take off if that is what I really wanted (it wasn't, and thankfully he didn't say that). He stuck with me through my doubts and attempts to back out, through my tears and fears and worries. My mom was aware of them too and one day she gave me something. It was a cheap plastic faux rock on which was written, "Sometimes you have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down." After that I stopped doubting. I stopped questioning and worrying and asking "what if." I married Jason, and that has been the best decision of my life to date. That faux rock still sits on my bedside table by the way, and I still read it as if for the very first time.
It is when we let go of our fear of failure that amazing things happen. Dugan explains many of these amazing things and also all the failures it took to get there. The first flight lasted a few seconds...and now look at what we are able to do. But I think it applies to more than amazing technological advances, although in my lifetime I've certainly benefited from many of these. I think it applies to our own life decisions. It applies to our belief in ourselves.
And even if we do fail, which we will, if it truly means we have already surpassed ourselves, can it really be considered failure at all? I'm going to make mistakes as a mom and it is going to get hard. I am going to run several more marathons before I qualify for Boston and it is going to be challenging. But letting go of the fear and trying it in the first place is worth it!
So ask yourself that question and see what your answer is. If I were you, I'd take that answer and run with it (literally if needed).