The Best Mistakes
“Oh don’t try that- what if it doesn’t work? What if you get hurt?”
How often do we hear that voice of fear either inside our own heads or out of the lips of others? Or what about the reigning champ, “How do you know this is the right (Insert: job, man, woman, house, life, etc.)? That fear of failure is a powerful adversary. I’ve battled it my whole life. Been stuck in its dirt-road rut of despair and malcontent. But I’m living life from the other side now, and that rut has been paved over.
Obeying fear’s voice may spare us the agony of defeat but traps us, instead, in mind-numbing monotony. Want to hate your job forever? Stay lonely? Stay in an unhappy relationship? Afraid to get a new dog after Buddy died? Then by all means, do nothing. Do not take that chance. Fear, after all, is screaming in your ear. Reminding you of the dire outcomes you have already experienced and warning of worse to come, should you be so foolhardy as to try again.
It is easy to be swayed by Fear’s voice. It’s strong, masterful. And cruelly on point: “Remember what happened the last time you dated someone? Did you see what happened to Joe when he pitched a proposal to the boss?” It plays upon our memories of failures that hit close to home. But if we stay safe, the voice magnanimously proclaims, those fears will never manifest into realities.
Listening to the voice wraps us in a deceivingly snug cocoon of safety as our hope sneaks quietly away. Maybe we poke our head out to test the air. We happen to see others making a run for it only to face-plant and slide right back in to their rut; “What was she thinking,” we wonder, “Trying to start her own business? Is she crazy!” There goes someone else, tip-toeing away from his rut. This guy looks like he’s going to make it, scrambling past one obstacle after another, falling and getting back up, picking up speed and so close to vanishing off that dirt road…and then he falls again. And stays down. And Fear’s voice thunders around, telling him he should have known what would happen, and offering him one last chance to avoid further injury if he just abandons the foolish quest for freedom and returns to his rut. And he does.
We tsk-tsk his failure, some of us genuinely saddened for him, others secretly pleased to have confirmed the senseless perils involved in taking that chance. And our own voice of Fear grows, absorbing its negative energy from the failures we see. Let that be a lesson to you, it hisses in our ears, See what happens when you ignore me? And we heed the warning, and another piece of us dies- and we don’t even realize it.
But sometimes another voice- Hope- breaks through Fear’s din. Her soft whisper is heard and her light shines through Fear’s shadow.
What’s that? We wonder. And we listen again. And we hear it again. And then we see that business woman climb back out of her rut and reopen her failed business- and succeed! We see that new couple, once so beaten down and now so profoundly appreciative of their new start together. And we see that once mangy puppy grow old with the family once too heartbroken to adopt another pet.
It can happen. We can overcome. Even in our defeats there are often victories simmering.
There is a certain liberation that accompanies having already experienced major worst-case outcomes and lived to tell about it. Time is both friend and foe in those instances, as it at first crawls agonizingly slowly, and then seems to speed too quickly, until whatever calamity that befell you is but a speck in your rearview mirror. And the road ahead looks awesome, for the only ruts in your life now are the ones you’ve made peeling out of that dirt road.