Fear of failure is paralysing. It is like a neurotoxin that infects ideas and inspiration and turns them into frustration. Starting somewhere in my brain manifesting as a thought in the back of my mind. It grows rapidly infecting every part of my body with sickening writhing tendrils spreading panic until finally everything freezes.
The fear of failure can become so great that it feels easier to simple not attempt anything. For me this means my camera gathers dust on a shelf, my paint brushes sit dry, my guitars lay silent and my pages remain blank. I am so avoidant of this feeling I often give up at even the slightest flickr of the rising sensation.
Last night I learned to fail.
At the gym my fear of failure is intensely physical. Within moments of the thought being born in my mind my body reacts, my breathing becomes irregular and I feel the overwhelming urge to flee. A heartbeat of doubt can become a panic attack. Legions of thoughts break through the barriers of my mind simultaneously – “I’m weak”, “I’ll disappoint coach”, “This is pathetic”, “I should quit”. When this happens I usually finish the set as best I can and take some time to compose myself afterwards.
Last night I went to the gym after missing a session due to illness. I was tired and probably functioning at about 60% but I knew I needed the session to feel better. I had spent the day locked in my head and I needed to get out into my body. I told coach I had limited capacity and after warming up we heading to the squat rack.
I felt calm as I set up on the bar. No other thoughts entered my mind. I knew how to hold and move my body to make the bar do what I needed it to do. I accepted my limited capacity and did my best taking on board coach’s form adjustments and advice. It was physically challenging, my body not yet fully recovered from a virus but my head was clear. As we increased the weight I knew my energy was running low. My form began to falter towards the end of the sets yet I remained calm. This was usually the point where doubt would creep into my mind, panic would rise and spread through my limbs and I would put myself through unnecessary torture.
And then I failed.
I set up well and started the squat. As I reached the bottom I paused for less than a heartbeat and I knew I wasn’t coming back up. Instead of panicking I accepted the failure. The bar caught calmly in the safety and I walked away. Coach smiled, he knew it was past time I learned to fail. I had failed safely, with coach watching on and the supports having done their jobs.
This failure taught me something about my squat but more importantly it taught me that with right people around us and the right supports in place it is ok to fail. To fail once is not to fail forever. There is no shame in failure, only a lesson to be learned and pride to be had for making the attempt. I left the gym stronger than I walked in last night. I’d call that a success.
Also published on Medium.