Tag Archives: failure

Screw depression

Screw depression. Really. It sucks. If anything in the world is unfair, it’s depression. My own brain literally just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, and the result is a compromised, stunted experience of life.

I suffer from depression. It’s been a part of my life for a long time, though it took years to work out that I might have a problem. Once I sought medical help, I discovered that antidepressants are truly magnificent.

Unfortunately, dealing with my own depression is not just a matter of taking medication. Over time, I am learning that depression has shaped the way I see the world. It has affected many of the habits I’ve developed during my life. It is without doubt the most limiting characteristic I have.

Depression makes me extremely effort-averse – productivity is a chore, rather than a path to achievement. Even though I now understand that my aversion to effort is a result of depression, it seems well nigh impossible for me to change my own behaviour.

I’ve been accused of being lazy at various stages of my life, and I’ve even believed it much of the time. But I’m not lazy. I’m depressed. When I’m not depressed, I’m capable of sustained hard work, which I enjoy greatly. When I am depressed, it’s almost impossible to get started.

I’m full of interesting ideas for what I’d like to do with my life. Almost none of those ideas ever see an attempt at implementation. That’s the result of depression convincing me that hard work is unpleasant, when the exact opposite is true: Hard work is invigorating and satisfying. I know that intellectually, but that’s apparently not enough to overcome the negative emotions I’ve learned to associate with effort.

Depression is the one part of my life I wish I could remove. I detest it. It makes me ordinary, when in my imagination I am extraordinary. It holds me back from pushing my own boundaries and expanding my life experience. It tells me I will probably fail and that failure will be a bad thing, when in fact failure is my most useful tool for learning and growing.

Screw depression. Seriously. Screw it.

The irony of it all, of course, is that depression is a part of who I am.

I’m fighting with myself.

Yoda got it right: There really is no try

I have a difficult relationship with failure. The source of the difficulty is fear. I am afraid to fail. As a result, I hold back, which makes failure virtually certain in many situations.

I’ve known about my fear of failure for some time. It’s something I’d like to change, and I’ve given it a fair amount of thought without yet coming up with a solution.

This morning, completely out of the blue, I had a breakthrough in understanding the implications of my fear of failure. The breakthrough realization was this:

I am afraid to fail, so instead I reserve the right to fail in an acceptable way.

Instead of committing to whatever it is I am doing, I instead make a half-effort; I “try”. And at some point, I assess whether or not I think my “trying” can succeed. At that point, if I don’t think success is possible, I allow myself to change course and head towards easy, excusable, comfortable failure.

It’s much easier to accept that I “can’t” succeed in advance than to put myself on the line and fail despite my best efforts. In that regard, failure in any given situation in my life is not a lack of success. It is more likely to be a lack of willingness to show up; to put myself on the line; to commit, holding nothing back.

 

One example of this tendency to avoid failure in my life is found on the race track. A few years ago, I raced a 125 superkart in the club championship at my local race track. The general impression I got from my brief attempt at motor racing was that I was naturally quite fast, but I was never quite sure how fast I could be.

Failure in racing is quite scary. It involves finding the limits of machine and driver and then going over those limits. The result of failure on a race track is spinning and crashing.

In 5 race meetings – that’s 5 practice sessions, 5 qualifying sessions and 15 “heats” – I didn’t spin a single time. I was never once out of control of my kart. Not once.

Why not? Because I was afraid. I didn’t want to hurt myself. And so I held back. I drove at a speed that I deemed “good enough”, rather than going all out to be as fast as possible.

I failed in a way that was acceptable to me, rather than failing in the attempt to succeed fully.

The result of that “acceptable failure” was that I don’t actually know how fast I can be on the race track. I live permanently in a world of vague potential, rather than actual achievement.

In other areas of my life, things are the same. I “try” rather than “do”. I reserve the right to fail on my own terms to save myself pain, disappointment, embarrassment or humiliation. In so doing, I don’t really achieve anything. I’m always operating within what I know to be possible, rather than pushing the boundaries of my own perception to discover what really is possible.

I can see the negative effects of “trying” rather than “doing” in my work, music, writing, personal finances, personal relationships, etc. Pretty much everywhere.

In all aspects of my life, I am held back by a fear of failure. It’s universal. That’s not to say that I don’t ever experience success. I am able to commit fully sometimes, and when that happens success is truly exhilarating. But those experiences are few and far between for me.

I’m starting to see the wisdom of Yoda’s words in The Empire Strikes Back: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

As long as I am “trying”, I will get nowhere. It’s time to quit trying, and start doing.

Screw risk aversion

How many risks have you taken today? Have a look at what you’ve done since waking up this morning and see where you’ve taken risks, mostly without realising at the time. The number of risks is not important. Rather it’s the realisation that risk is entirely unavoidable in the life of a human being that matters.

I’ll use my morning as an example:

1. I drove to work. Driving is probably the most risky thing I do on a daily basis. I put myself in a metal box that then moves at speeds of up to 100 km/h on my daily commute. While I’m driving, I’m listening to music, thinking about the problems I’ll face during my day, considering what to write on my blog, noticing the attractive woman in the car next to me, etc.

I’m pretty casual about the risk of driving. It’s something I’m used to. But it’s one of the few things I do that could actually result in my accidental death.

2. I took a shower. Doesn’t seem particualrly risky. But consider that I woke up late and then rushed through my morning routine so I could get to work as quickly as possible. I neglected to put the bath-mat on the floor (it typically hangs over the side of the bath so as not to get stepped on and dirtied unnecessarily during the rest of the day).

When I got out of the shower, I put wet feet onto a tiled floor. If I’d slipped, there’s a fair probability I would have fallen quite hard and injured myself – potentially to the extent of a broken leg/arm/rib…

3. I drank coffee made by someone else. I don’t generally think of this as a risky activity. But think about it. Although I trust my colleague who makes the tea, nobody really knows what goes on in someone else’s head. If she arbitrarily decided to poison me, I’d be dead.

That may seem like I’m getting a bit paranoid, but I’m not. I’m simply pointing out that there is an actual risk involved here. It’s such a small risk that I don’t feel the need to mitigate it, but for someone who is extremely risk averse, it might seem significant.

4. I’m sitting in a big building with floors above and below me. So many risks. If the builders cut too many corners in erecting this structure, the floor above could fall on me. Or what’s below could buckle under the weight of the floors above.

I don’t know the details of the materials used in the construction of this  building. Some of them could be toxic (asbestos seems unlikely but other materials could be considered safe and yet prove not to be). The construction of my environment could kill me.

5. I’ve interacted with people, objects, liquids, gases, etc. Every single interaction I’ve had with anyone or anything today probably means I’ve encountered viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc. that are harmful to humans. I’m protected from them by my immune system. But at any point, I could encounter a harmful little organism that my body can’t deal with.

In that case, I’d become ill, possibly seriously enough to die. Think that’s far-fetched? Tell that to the people who died of Ebola recently in West Africa who had never even heard of it before it killed them.

I’ll stop there. If I felt like it, I’m sure I could find hundreds of risks I’ve taken in the few hours since I woke up. But that’s not necessary.

What’s the point of all this? I’m trying to demonstrate that risk aversion is actually just counter-productive.

If you’re considering doing something and you’re concerned that the risk of failure is too high to justify it, then go through the above exercise. See the inherent risk in everything you do. Realise that risk is not a negative thing. It’s simply there, everywhere, all the time.

Do you want to do something but you’re afraid of the risks?

  • Want to write a novel (I do) but scared it might not be good enough to publish?
  • Want to go on a crazy overland adventure through Africa (I do) but afraid you might get sick/lost/broke/etc…?
  • Want to record some music you’ve written and put it on Youtube for all the world to see (I do) but afraid the world might not like it?
  • Want to embark on a creative career that includes writing, playing music, traveling, etc. (I do) but afraid of being broke?
  • Want to help poor kids with no opportunities by providing them with books to read (I do) but afraid you might not have the knowledge/skills/contacts/time/resources to make it happen?

When I look at that list of things i want to do and the risks associated with them, the risks seem significant. They’re scary.

But then I consider that just this morning, driving to work, I took a few small gaps to save some time; I drove a bit quicker than I should have in some places; I glanced at my phone while driving with one hand. If any one of those situations had gone badly wrong, I could be writing this from a hospital bed.

So why am I afraid of my novel being rejected by publishers when I’ve barely begun to write it? Why am I afraid of having no money? Why am I afraid to fail? The risks associated with the things I’m not doing don’t seem that big compared to the risks I take as a matter of course in my daily life.

So screw risk aversion. Screw fear. Screw giving up before I’ve even started. I’d rather fail magnificently. Better to be rejected/sick/lost/broke/dead in the pursuit of something than barely alive in the pursuit of nothing.

Fear, courage and conscious choices

I am in the process of working out what it is that I want from my life. It’s a long process, and I’m right at the start, but I’ve made an observation that might be useful: I am afraid of defining and forming myself through the choices I make.

Of course, that’s an illogical fear – I am going to be defined and formed by the choices I make whether I want to or not. So I suppose what I’m really afraid of is taking responsibility for the choices I make – becoming the man I choose to be. Accepting at the outset that I might choose wrong, and choosing anyway.

There is immense risk in making conscious life choices. At least it seems so to me. I could carry on living in my own comfort zone, being dissatisfied with some areas of my life and blaming circumstance or other people – pretty much not accepting responsibility for my own life.

But if I make conscious choices about the life I live, then there’s no-one else to blame. It’s all on me. If I screw it up, it’s my fault. Equally terrifying, if I succeed, it’s down to me too.

And I realise through the writing down of all of this that failing to take responsibility for my own choices (which include choosing not to choose) is in itself a choice that defines who I am.

So I’m stuck in a bit of a corner. Either I do nothing, remain dissatisfied and accept (because I understand it now) that I chose that, or I choose to become the man I want to be, take the associated risks and accept that I might fall flat on my face.

Which will I choose? To me it seems to all come down to courage. Am I the coward who is so afraid to fail that I won’t try? Or do I have the courage to accept possible failure and thereby also embrace the possiblity of success?

I hope courage wins. I really, really do. But I am afraid.