You can't learn to swim by standing on the shore: why we're afraid of failure
Entrepreneurship, Musings

You Can’t Learn to Swim By Standing On the Shore

Do you remember the day you learned how to swim? Most of us probably don’t, we were so young at the time.

We had no fear of failing, though. Hell, we didn’t even know what failure was. We most likely knew that somebody would be there to help us if we started to sink. We wanted to learn by doing–it was all we knew.

If you were a little older when you first learned to swim, the story probably went a little differently. You had learned from experience that failure could hurt, and so, you hesitated.

You weren’t so eager to dive in headlong. Your mind urged you to stay where things were safe. To stay on the shore, where things were comfortable and dry.

But with a bit of goading from parents or friends, you took the leap anyway. Perhaps you waded in from the shallow end, ever so slowly approaching the deep, where your feet would no longer touch solid ground.

First, you figured out how to tread water–hey, this isn’t so scary–and then how to properly swim.

Maybe it was a bit clumsier than a toddler with no fear, but you did it nonetheless. Then, just one day later, when you felt capable and swimming was no longer so intimidating, you dove in without hesitation.

You were glad you had learned how to swim, scary though it was at the time. You had a new skill that would help you get through life. You had confidence.

The older we get, though, the easier it becomes to forget that feeling of conquering a fear, of looking potential failure dead in the eye and doing the scary thing anyway. Our minds grow stronger and louder; more convincing. Conditioned to avoid anything that makes us feel small or less than, our minds steer us away from what scares us.

Slowly but surely, we begin to learn what our safe place looks and feels like, and we stay there. On the shore, where it’s dry. We start to believe that everything inside this safe place is, in fact, all we are capable of. Failure becomes the enemy, to be avoided at all costs.

The ironic thing is, failure can’t be avoided. It’s just another of life’s certainties and the harder we fight it, the worse it feels when it finally catches up to us.

And what I want to suggest to you today is a radical alternative to living in fear of failure, given that it’s coming for us anyway. It’s quite simple in theory, but to apply it will take a lot of practice:

Seek out what scares you. It’s the only way to grow.

And yes, this means you will fail, and fail often. The more often you fail, though, the less scary it will feel. The more often you seek out the enemy, the more often you confront it with a cold, glassy stare that says “Come on, do your worst,” the less power it will hold over you.

After all, safe isn’t what we are here for. Comfortable isn’t where we should live.

We are meant to grow, to evolve, and yes, we are meant to fail.

Safety and comfort, on the other hand, breed complacency. Stagnancy. Regression. I’d rather live where I’m always just a little bit uncomfortable. On the cusp of fear. Teetering on the edge of uncertainty. Treading water right at the spot where my feet no longer touch the ground.

To get better at swimming, you had to practice. You learned new strokes. You held your breath longer and longer. Then you ventured into the ocean and felt relaxed even there. You became comfortable in water by living in it. By coming to understand it inside and out. Through repeated exposure until it felt as normal as getting dressed in the morning.

We become comfortable with failure in exactly the same way. By living in it, allowing it to seep into our skin; by coming to understand it inside and out. Through repeated exposure until it feels as normal as getting dressed in the morning.

Failure isn’t the enemy–it’s how we become who we’re truly meant to be.

There won’t be many things in life you’ll feel truly ready for. This is because there is always more you could do to prepare. You know what I call this, though? Procrastination. Because there exists a level of readiness that is “good enough,” and despite knowing when we’ve reached it, we still hesitate. We let the fear of failure keep us safe, keep us comfortable, keep us from growing.

When I started this blog years ago, do you think I was “ready?” According to most advice I’ve read online, I was anything but. I didn’t have a plan, I just dove in and realized it was time to sink or swim. To learn how to tread water, or let it engulf me.

And, just like when I was two years old and learning to swim for the first time, there have been people close by to keep me above water every time I’ve started to sink. They pat me on the back, tell me they’re proud of me for trying, and gently nudge me back into the pool to try again, equipped with new knowledge from each failure.

More often than not, we’re capable of treading water, even learning to swim. We just have to have enough faith in ourselves to take the leap in the first place and know that regardless of the outcome, the experience will only help us to grow.


Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like

5 Comments

  • Reply Tory June 27, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    This was exactly what I needed to hear right now. Way too many times have I gathered all the tools, done all the research, and summoned up the courage to take a leap, just to hesitate or procrastinate because I wasn’t “ready enough.” Beautifully worded (as always), Leah. Thank you 🙂

  • Reply James June 29, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Awesome motivational piece … I need a push to do some important tasks and this helped. Thanks!

  • Reply Edu July 1, 2017 at 3:14 am

    very motivational and true

  • Leave a Reply

    CommentLuv badge

    Inline
    Inline