I’ve done lots of risky things in my life. Moved my family across country, proposed to my wife at age 18, kayaked a class 4 rapid then decided to hike back up river and swim it the second time. I have even eaten balut (look it up). Once, when I was cliff jumping, I remember someone commenting to me, “you seem pretty fearless.” The funny thing is that, I’m not fearless.
Fear actually can be quite stifling for me. It’s an external force that comes over me in waves. The first time I spoke in public, I couldn’t get my legs to stop shaking and I thought I would never be able to do it again. Fear is a funny thing in my life.
As for my mortality, I’ve come close to death so many times that I already feel like I’m on borrowed time. I had asthma when I was young and remember the shocked look on the ER doctor’s face when I was admitted. “You shouldn’t be here,” he told me. The oxygen level in my blood had become so low I should have died. Another time, I walked away from a car accident where I shouldn’t have survived. I remember my father’s face when he saw the remains of the car at the wrecking yard. It was half the size it was supposed to be. Life and death doesn’t phase me.
The one that does haunt me more than anything is fear of failure. It can be absolutely crippling. For those who know me, you’d never even know I have an issue with it. Looking over my life choices, you’d see that I’m not risk averse. I laugh at those “what the hell have I gotten myself into” moments… or at least I’ve gotten used to them. For me, the fear happens when I find myself out in the new territory. It’s not those sink or swim moments, but more will I swim well.
I developed a hyper-critical voice from going up in a home with hyper-critical parents. The voice in my head says, “now that I’m here, I better make it worth it.” I remember when I first felt the call to step into ministry and talking with my parents about it. I had always been raised in the church, and they made sure I was there anytime the doors were opened. I assumed that they be happy with me talking about a call from God into ministry… boy, was I wrong. “Stuart, you don’t want to do that,“ my mother told me, “you’ll never make any money.” She was right, I’ve never made much money, but that wasn’t the point.
When you take risks, you always bring with you a handful of critics. The ones that watch you from that fence that border the comfort zone hoping that your failure will validate their lack of courage. In life, critics will always be there. It’s kind of like that old adage they say about teachers, “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” I’d like to reframe it. Those that are bold, try; those who won’t; criticize. Enough of that, it’s easy to lament on the critics, but that’s not the point of this post.
I’ve realized that I need to give myself time to properly lament, before I pick myself up. Once I’m back on my feet, I begin to push past the sting of shame and look into what I’ve learned from the situation. I now understand that failure is part of my personal growth, and I claim those experiences as valuable lessons. Reframing my perspective is a great way to move through failure. Distance is key to seeing the positive things that were gained. In regards to failure, everyone always brings up Thomas Edison who said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That can-do attitude is annoying in the moment, especially when someone is trying to encourage you, but it is absolutely essential and necessary to keep moving in a positive direction. My desire to innovate must also bring with it the perspective that failure plays a key role. We rarely get things right on the first try, unless someone has already written an instruction manual. Failure are the lumps that innovators must endure as they move forward or as Cole NeSmith tweeted, “Creativity is the willingness to always believe in another possibility.” We should never become comfortable with the way life is, it can always be better. So I’ll continue to lean into that fear… or take a deep breath and pray as I push into it.
Sometimes, I think of my bloody, grass stained six-year-old knees when I was learning to ride a bike in the back yard. I’d try and fall, but get up because I wanted to conquer that thing that seemed to own me. So this is my encouragement for you innovators, entrepreneurs and dreamers out there. The venture; the risk is worth it, even if failure does happen. Just get up and keep going. Don’t be owned by fear.
In my life, I keep going… and so should you.