Most people don’t feel good enough, and most people fear failure – including those who are globally renowned for being highly successful. So, what does that tell us? That being afraid and self-critical is absolutely normal… and that some human beings allow it to hold them back more than others do.
I recently watched the television series, Portrait Artist Of The Year 2019, and apart from being mesmerised by the contestants’ breathtaking talent, I was also struck by their nervousness and humility. They all believed that everyone else was better than themselves, and they all made jokes at their own expense. Some of them had even been through the process before without getting to the end… and yet, they were still willing to re-subject themselves to the experience, knowing full well that there could only be one winner – and that the chance of ‘failure’ was far greater than the chance of success (if, that is, being the overall winner is seen as the only possible version of success). I know people who say that they love to draw or paint but who never, or rarely, do so – and here are the 4 most common reasons they give to explain their resistance:
I don’t have time.
I’m not good enough.
I’m a perfectionist and if I can’t be the best then what’s the point?
It won’t ever earn me any money.
Excuses, excuses, excuses…
Don’t we all do it, trot out pathetic excuses at the drop of a hat, in order to defend ourselves and our choices? As someone who worked with customers on a face to face basis for more than 25 years, I can tell you that the human capacity for excuse-making is mind-blowing… and that behind it always lurks one of two things: fear and laziness. And even apparent laziness is often a mask for massive self-doubt and terror of failure. The big problem with adept excuse-makers is that trying to help them is like herding cats; they have a yes-but for everything you suggest or advise, resisting this way and that, whilst still claiming to want change and progression. You can’t afford to get sucked into their soul-destroying vortex. You just have to wish them well and leave them to get on with it.
Perfectionism is a crazy notion…
Perfection doesn’t exist. Or, at least, it only exists in the mind of the individual beholder. Nothing is deemed to be universally perfect, not even newborn babies (not everyone goes ga-ga over them)! People who claim to be perfectionists could technically be seen as offensive: after all, what are they claiming? That their expectations are higher than other folks’ and that they cannot tolerate anything they deem to be faulty? A bit smug, when you think about it… a bit of a put-down. However, I think that it is more likely that the self-proclaimed perfectionist is really hyper-sensitive to their own possible failings rather than those of others. And, often, the desire for perfection is just another form of procrastination… another reason not to expose ourselves to anything that could lead to failure.
What is failure, anyway?
I have asked many fearful individuals to describe the kind of scenario that would demonstrate their failure, and here are the most common responses:
Letting other people down.
Not being able to complete the task/project.
Not actually enjoying the task/project.
Making the wrong decision.
The most obvious thing to me is that none of the above are so awful that the world would come to an end if we engaged in any of them. It is possible to let other people down (I know, because I have done so), but often not in the way failure-fearers mean. They usually mean by not living up to other people’s expectations of them, or not wanting what other people believe they should want – and, more often than not, ‘others’ turn out to be parents. Sometimes the parents aren’t actually exerting any pressure upon their offspring, and it is perceived expectation rather than real; other times the parents are being ridiculously unreasonable, inflicting their own unmet wants and desires upon their child (who could be in their teens or even middle-age). This kind of fear is the most crippling and it’s a crying shame that anyone should be subjected to it – it makes me so cross!
If anyone knows how to fail, it’s me!
As for the other fails, they are, of course, nothing of the sort. I have looked stupid to the rest of the world more times than I can possibly count, and I am not b**********g you! Members of my own family have definitely judged me as seriously deficient many, many times. I have been sacked from one job and ‘encouraged to leave’ another. I don’t have any qualifications, apart from the few I managed to scrape through at school. I have had serious financial problems, mostly caused by poor decision making. I have been completely alone, without anyone knowing (or caring, I imagine) whether I was dead or alive. I have started things I haven’t finished. I have engaged in work I really didn’t enjoy. I have made many questionable decisions. Oh, and, I have been very publicly criticised (courtesy of the fair-minded world of internet sites and forums!). Do I see myself as a failure? Well, I know for sure that I have failed often and in different ways, if failure means not being the most wise, disciplined version of myself at all times, and if it means not always applying myself in the way that I know I can and should. But am I a failure? Hell no (in my opinion, at least)! And, if you think about it, we are the only ones qualified to to deem ourselves a failure… no-one else has the power or the authority!
I had to force myself to write this blog…
I wanted to write something today – felt that I really should write something today. I knew what I’d ramble on about but I didn’t know if I had enough to say on the subject, how it would unfold, or whether it would even be worth putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I have started to give myself time off, something I never used to do, largely because I can no longer work in the way I did (25 year burnout, probably), and so today I have no consultations listed in my diary. However, time off does not mean time off from writing – it is an important part of my business, and my life. But, I do not find it to be an easy, relaxing process and I have to motivate myself to invest the several hours of time and mental/emotional energy required (some people dash off a blog in the blink of an eye, but I am not one of them)… and so I pulled myself away from the television and got started. I have no idea how many people will read what I have written… maybe no-one will. I have watched the YouTube videos of those experts who inform us that bloggers should be attracting at least 30,000 page views per month, and I am not. To be honest, I don’t believe I ever will, though I could be wrong. Does that make me a failure? In the past, on my darkest days, I would have said yes, and threatened to throw in the towel. What’s the point, I would have argued, if my website isn’t going into meltdown? Well, that attitude was a definite fail, and an arrogant one at that! If I can’t have overnight success, and if I have to go to all the trouble and effort of developing my skills and my craft, I’m just not interested! Jeez, I’m glad I got over that s**t, I can tell you!
I am never confident when I sit down to write, and never will be. And I don’t begin a consultation with a casual, been-there-and-done-that approach, even though I have already produced more than 30,000. I continue to experience inner tension and have to consciously clear and still my mind. There is no guarantee that what I deliver will automatically be accepted and embraced; I have had to work hard on developing my skills and my delivery throughout the years, but it can still blow up in my face at any moment! There is no perfection to be had, only the very best we personally have to offer, in every area of life.
What are you compelled to be and do?
Look, life should not just be about doing what needs to be done, putting one foot in front of the other and being ‘good’ (in society’s eyes). Self-sacrifice shouldn’t be wasted on the wrong things… it is too precious a commodity. And so is time. I have never found anyone claiming not to have the time to do this or that be truthful. If we have time to spend perusing social media or watching soaps on television we have time to invest in a goal or project, to begin practising so that we can get better. Yes, 30 mins a day, 2/3 days per week, will get you started! You are unlikely to become worse at whatever it is, and there is always the chance that you will improve… blossom, even.
And, as for making the wrong decision, you can always change your mind. And then change it again. That’s the thing about the mind: it is as flexible as we choose to allow it to be.
Criticism won’t kill you, and could even help you to evolve and grow if you approach it in the right way (it has certainly helped me, though in all fairness the process has involved conscious awareness, effort and time!). Remember: this is your life, not your mother’s, your boss’s, or the malicious internet troll’s – it is YOURS. You will experience a number of failures throughout your life, but you won’t be a failure. Unless, of course, you do your very best to make that a reality by never stepping outside of your comfort zone and never putting anything of yourself out there, whilst continuously allowing others to dictate what you do, how you feel about yourself – and what you ultimately morph into!