Fearing Failure and Doing it Anyway
I have often been a scaredy cat when it comes to change and facing my fears. Although throughout adult life, I have taken some bold leaps of faith at various points – travelling alone, becoming self-employed and doing a sky dive to name a few; soon after the leap, I would frequently venture back to a place where things were comfortable and predictable, where I felt a sense of competency already, and where the illusion of being in control was firmly present. The comfort zone offered far less risk of experiencing the perceived anxiety and humiliation of me failing at something.
But of course, failure is a necessary component of the learning process. It is only by floundering and falling down again and again; by practising new skills; seeking out help and then practising some more that we begin to grow and embrace a new way of being. It takes motivation, perseverance and willpower to keep going. It is extremely easy to feel like giving up and assuming that we are ‘just not cut out for this’.
In recent years, as awareness of my own mortality has becomes a reality (one could call it a mid-life crisis!), I have consciously decided to let go of some of my fears. For some it might be a flashy car or a younger toy-boy, but for me it has involved facing uncertainty and venturing out into the unknown.
One of my recent challenges has involved applying for the ITV fitness competition - Ninja Warrior UK. The show originated in Japan and the competition has been referred to as ‘the world’s toughest assault course on television’. However, this is not an event solely for the professional athlete and many seemingly ordinary people participate, from bus drivers to accountants. To participate in Ninja Warrior, you need a collective balance of strength, coordination, speed and mental resilience. From lifting your body weight as you swing on bars, to box-jumps, to scaling ‘the wall’, to balancing across moving obstacles; it is a definitive challenge.
I am not a hard-core fitness fanatic by any means and a year ago, I hadn’t even heard of Ninja Warrior. For most of my adult life, I have been semi-fit, occasionally jogging around the block, walking into town to post a letter and going on family swimming trips. Sporadically, my motivation would surge and I would enter a running race. I was bored, though, and any remnants of passion and interest that I’d once had for fitness had waned. I wanted to do something different. Without any forward research, I decided to join my local CrossFit group, appreciating that it was not exactly aerobics but not really having a clue as to what I was embarking on.
It is not an underestimate to say that the first few sessions were sheer agony and all anticipated fears of public humiliation and failing ensued. My upper body strength was zero as I hadn’t lifted anything much heavier than a can of baked beans at home. I struggled to lift the lightest of weights; my press ups were like wriggly worms (as described by my coach). My pull-ups involved much huffing and puffing, whilst cursing at the bar and looking up at it.
But, slowly, ever so, ever so slowly, I began to love getting fit and actually looked forward to the sessions. I felt stronger in my body and more mentally focused and energetic. I could now lift my youngest son clear above my head! Strange but true benefits.
Last week, after applying for Ninja Warrior UK earlier this year, I had my audition. I was thrilled to get it – it is highly competitive process and the standard of fitness is high. Alas, I didn’t make it though this time and it was incredibly disappointing as I had trained hard. My focus had been on the prize of getting through, and understandably I am grieving the loss of opportunity.
Do I see this as failure though? No way! I attempted to do something that I never dreamed possible, taking a gargantuan leap from my comfort zone. Even though I haven’t achieved the goal I set out to do (yet!), who would have thought nine months ago that I could swing along the monkey-bars in the children’s playground with ease, or jump onto a high-box or pull my body weight above the bar? It is a cliché to say it, but the journey has surpassed the destination in its significance. I have faced my fear and more than survived, with it bringing ripples of confidence and delight dispersing throughout all areas of my life. It is enticing to think now, just what else might be possible when I give myself permission to fail.