Fear of Failure
I’ve heard before that many of us don’t have a fear of failure so much as we do a fear of success–the idea being that failure is an end with a large quiver of excuses to justify the failure. But success is committing to constant scrutiny and the anticipation of potential failure (which never ends). I dunno. Sort of pretzel logic, if you ask me.
But In either case, it’s really our concern about what others will think of us that provides the stress. And since you’re probably not going to fix that minor psychological weakness (responding to stress), take advantage of it. Let the stress of scrutiny, of judgment, motivate you to where you want to go. Confused? Then this week’s article may help you understand why it’s better to risk getting blown up than never seen at all.
If you’re gonna walk on thin ice, you might as well dance.
by Matt Scherr
There’s an old Monty Python skit, in the form of a mock government service film, called “How Not to Be Seen“. The scholarly English voice expounds the value of not being seen, as those who are seen…are blown up. When you have announced your plan to take a sabbatical with your family and friends, you will begin to relate to the subjects in this film.
We will presume that your entire nuclear family is on board with your sabbatical plan (if not, you’ll just have to wait for a later issue where we’ll address that knotty little challenge). Once you begin letting the cat out of the bag, you’ll all return from your days with stories of reactions to this news. This news will almost universally raise eyebrows, and occasionally voices. The reactions will be mixed, but will really fall under just two types that can be paraphrased thusly:
Friend/family reaction #1
“Wow, that is the coolest thing I’ve heard since kitten videos; you guys are so brave and adventurous.”
Friend/family reaction #2
“Wow, we suspected before, but now we know: you really are bat-crap crazy. Taking your kids out of school and leaving your jobs, Wow! Really?…Wow.”
When Reaction #2 comes from incessant curmudgeons you may feel even better about your decision. When it comes from family or respected friends or colleagues, you may want to break your own leg to give yourself an excuse to call it all off.
All those “Reactions #1″ will warm your cockles and lift your spirits. You may begin to feel that you are carrying the mantle of all the tired, poor, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. They will ask you how planning is coming, if the kids are excited, where you’ll be living or traveling, how long you’re going. They will imagine themselves, through you, doing the same thing, because, “Hey, if they can do it, so can we!” It is much easier to follow after someone else who has already walked through the gauzy veil between dream and possibility. You have become a role model, a cynosure, a beau ideal! Don’t let it go to your head.
What I mean is, don’t let it freak you out. You might expect Reaction #2 to be difficult, at least when it comes, as it will for many of you, from family or friends whose opinion carries great weight for you. But you have already made your decision (haven’t you?) and will have made your own peace with the effect that will have on those people. But the praise, the support, the enthusiasm? This kind of attention can actually bring on the willies like nothing else. You are the kicker lined up before the goalposts with seconds remaining in the final game, carrying the hopes, dreams, labors, and significant cash bets squarely and solely on your shoulders. It’s hard not to think about missing.
And so if you’ve considered these eventualities as consequences of your coming out about your family sabbatical (or even if you haven’t and I just royally freaked you out), let me advise you this: Once you have decided to take your sabbatical (you have, haven’t you?) you must tell people!
You will be sorely tempted to keep this decision to yourself, safe within the confines of your own expectations. Keeping it secret is one form of a safety net, to protect yourself from potential shame, embarrassment, or disappointment in the eyes of others. I won’t say never use a safety net, but realize that having a safety net dramatically increases the probability that you will use it! And in this case, the risk of shame, embarrassment, and disappointment is just the kind of thing to help you with your sabbatical planning.
Of course, some delicate concerns may demand selective disclosure—you may not want your company to know you’ll be quitting in nine months—but it is very important that others know about your plans. The people you must tell are those whom you’d feel you’ve disappointed, or who might say I told you so, or who will be your cheerleaders and supporters when you doubt yourself. (Note: don’t use the empathizing friends; those are for breakups, divorces, and failed diets.)
When my wife, Diana, and I were plotting our escape I “accidentally” let slip in an interview with the local newspaper (don’t be too impressed; it’s a small town) that we were going to take a sabbatical. Heh. Oops! But even then, when both our employers found out (yep, small town; people read the paper), they were excited for us, if sad for themselves. And what did we expect? We both had good jobs and worked with great people and had great bosses. What boss would begrudge such an opportunity, even if it meant having to replace you or do without you for a while?
You’ll have to judge the temperament of your employer and anyone else you may be concerned about, but the more people you tell, the better. Not only will it make the thought of failure much more painful (and therefore more motivating), some of those people could turn into valuable team members. It is exciting to plan a sabbatical, even if it’s not yours, and you may find some of your friends and family doing research and discovery for you. And you may also find that someone you tell knows someone where you’re going to go who can help, or has an uncle in the diplomatic corps who can grease the visa wheels for you. We ourselves had an Ecuadorian friend whose family there became our adopted in-country family and an invaluable help and comfort.
The benefits of not being seen are the same that also keep us all from making remarkable decisions every day of our lives: the safety of conformity; the ease of meeting everyday expectations; the comfort of the commonplace; the not getting blown up. But conformity and comfort are simple, expected, and like sex without orgasm. A fear of failure is usually a self-fulfilling prophecy if no one knows you’re trying. A fear of failure when everyone knows you are trying is that little extra juice that will keep you awake another 30 minutes a night to plan, or up one hour earlier to research, or that friend who, when you doubt you can do this, will sit you down and tell you why everyone else watching you not only knows that you can succeed, but needs you to succeed!
And that is exactly what you may need to risk getting blown up.
[Ed. Note. Matt Scherr, the editor and founder of RadicalFamilySabbatical.com, has been blown up before and is perversely attracted to the experience.]