My 12-year-old son has started playing drums for the junior high school jazz band. He was having a hard time with it–jazz is tough to learn–and wanted to quit. He’s only been playing the drum kit for a few weeks so I told him, “Go in and talk to your teacher and tell her what’s going on. Tell her what you are struggling with.”
He took my advice and before he could even finish telling the teacher what was going on she cut him off and said, “Listen, it’s okay. No one else has any idea what they’re doing.”
There is this misconception that has been instilled into every one one of us since birth, the idea that we are the only ones who are afraid to fail or are failing. It’s time we all come clean and admit together, “We are all afraid of failure, (and yes sometimes we all end up failing.)”
In the interview that I had with Professor Gowin, Associate Professor of Business Administration, he said, “There’s proof we’re not the only ones who struggle with this because people are writing books on the fear of failure.” Now that we’ve all gotten that off our chests, let’s explore Professor Gowin’s take on how we should deal with this fear of failing.
Landon Liga: What does the term “embrace failure” mean to you?
Michael Gowin: To me it means, be willing to take risks and chances. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I used to think I would have to do something right the first time and if it wasn’t perfect then I wanted to give up. To be honest, I still struggle with this. Over time I’ve learned that if I was going to start to take risks and chances then I had to be okay with producing something that I knew wasn’t going to be perfect. Think of it like software development. First you produce a beta version and have people try it out. You get feedback and then you are able to improve on the first mistakes you made.
LL: Has there ever been a time where you have missed out on an opportunity because of fear?:
MG: Yes, for the most part it was because of my lack of self confidence. I believed I wasn’t good enough and that someone else was a better fit for the job. Years ago when I began photographing weddings, I shot two weddings one season, and then within a few months I had already booked 8 weddings for the next summer. It was all new to me. Several months before that summer I was terrified. I wanted to refund all of the brides their deposits and tell them I couldn’t do their weddings. I ended up sticking it out but each wedding I shot, I was so nervous and worried that I became physically ill. But they all turned out fine and I’m still shooting professionally today.
Side note: There is a name for this feeling of inadequacy. Author Julien Smith calls it “the flinch.” He actually wrote a book on it called The Flinch. This is the idea that we get a task put in front of us and our first reaction is to turn away instead of facing it. Taking Professor Gowin’s example with his photography fear, he said it took him 2-3 years to learn to deal with this feeling. It’s like anything else we do: practice makes perfect, and the more experience you get the greater you become.
LL: What advice would you give to someone who has a fear of failing?
MG: Understand what that flinch feels like. Read The Flinch by Julien Smith, The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield, and Linchpin by Seth Godin. Once you start learning about this fear, you begin to become aware of it and you are able to recognize it when it occurs. After you can recognize it, you can begin taking risks. It’s like a muscle:, the more you work it, the more your resistance to it will grow.
LL: Can you tell of a time where you were afraid to fail but you took a chance and you reaped the benefits?
MG: For me, growing our family through adoption was initially a fear-inducing experience. There are a lot of unknowns in that process. We have three children in the “traditional manner” and I was comfortable with where my family was at the time. But through talking and praying with my wife, we felt God was leading us in this direction. So since 2010 we’ve added six children from Ethiopia to our family through three adoptions.
When dealing with the fear of failure you will have to force yourself to step out of what feels comfortable to you. Through the whole experience of the adoptions, I was able to truly understand God’s love for his people. If I let fear control my decisions I would have missed out on this life-changing opportunity.
LL: We are all going to deal with the same problems. It’s up to us to learn from them and start to become aware of what your own personal “flinch” feels like. Keep learning, keep growing, and continue to drum to your own beat. (We’re all doing it anyway: Let’s be proud about it!)
Side note: What better way to know you’re not alone than telling about your failures? I encourage everyone to share what they have failed with and even stories of overcoming failure. #FailureFriday.
This is the third in a series of posts by senior Business Administration major Landon Liga. He’s from Long Island, New York, and is learning to embrace his own mistakes.
Do you have a story about a time when failing made you a better person or when you faced your fear? Email Landon.