I’ve recently been thinking a lot about a friend and comments she made to me over dinner a few weeks ago. As a counsellor I’m used to friends sharing their thoughts and fears with me, it comes with the label of the job I do but every so often it throws up things that make me think that bit harder.
She had her first child a year ago, is now coming to the end of her maternity leave and the thought of returning to work fills her with dread. She’s loved being at home with her son for the past year and after being so happy she is scared stiff of what the next stage in her life will bring.
The more we discussed it the more she started to say that she’s never really enjoyed her job, like many people it was never her dream to work in the industry she found herself in, it just happened and 15 years later she’s still with the same employer. The more she talked the more it became apparent to me that her problems are much deeper than a fear of returning to work. She had got used to the comfort of the same job, the safety having been there for so long brings and the fact that she is familiar with the surroundings and her colleagues.
As we continued to talk (well she talked and I listened!) she eventually admitted that what she is really scared of is failing. She found a job that she is good at, one that she can do without having to worry about failing at because both she and her bosses know she is very capable. The idea of doing something different, taking a risk at something she may not be very good at seems abhorrent to her. In fact it turns out this fear of failure pervades every part of her life, she won’t take risks, won’t try something new and just continually does the same thing again and again safe in the knowledge she will succeed every time.
Human nature is to do the things that we do well more often than the things we don’t. If you are good at maths at school you are more likely to be a mathematician, if science was the subject you get A’s in then I bet I can guess which subject you studied at college. Society loves success and pushes us to strive for it, tells us that if we are good at something that’s the path we should take.
How many kids though loved a subject that they didn’t excel in and so dropped it at an early age for one they had a better chance of success in? I for one loved tennis, I dreamed of being a professional player but the truth of the matter was that I wasn’t very good at it, I persevered for a while (thoroughly enjoying it the whole time) but when it became obvious I would never be very good at it I gave it up and took up running, a sport I thoroughly disliked but one I excelled at nonetheless.
What if we do this every time though?
What if we carry on in the career we dislike, study the subjects we have no passion for and partake in a sport we hate every minute of all because they are the things we are good at and are least likely to result in failure? Boredom that’s what, a sense of being unfulfilled and the looming day when we ask ourselves “what is the point”. The danger of course being that when we reach that day avoiding failure has become so ingrained in our psyche that we couldn’t take a risk to change things even if we wanted to.
Why do we do this? Do we not only truly learn when we fail? Certainly failing at things taught me a lot more than succeeding ever did. It is only when facing up to failure that we question what we did wrong and how we could have done things differently. It is the time when we learn the most about ourselves and our ability to get back up and try again.
So how do we avoid the next generation, our children, being so risk averse, so scared of failing that they won’t consider taking a risk to achieve happiness? The answer is surprisingly simple but by the same token not necessarily easy to do. Children model their parent’s behaviour, they learn through repetition so all they need to see is their parents being willing to take risks, not afraid to fail, not afraid to try and try again until they eventually succeed. Through this simple act they will intuitively start to understand that failure is a beginning not an end and only then will they will stop being scared of it.
Losing is not the end, failure is not the worst thing that can happen, it’s simply a step along the path to learning a genuine way to deal with life’s problems.
Thomas Edison so famously said “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up”.