We were standing on the seashore, watching our children playing in the water when my friend told me about her summer camp experience growing up. Each summer the campers were required to swim a specified distance and tread water for a set amount of time in order to pass the test. Passing the test allowed the campers to swim out past the shallow end during recreation time.
My friend admitted that for many years she would not attempt the swim test. She could do it – she was a capable swimmer. But the thought of people watching her attempt the swim and the possibly of everyone witnessing her failing the test kept her from taking the risk. Instead, she stayed in the shallow end of the lake for years.
Perhaps this sounds familiar to you as it does for me. Fear of failure has a way of keeping us in the shallow end far longer than is reasonable. The stats out there cite about 31% of adults are afraid of failure (Linkagoal). And many reasons for the fear come up for discussion – perfectionism, overcritical parents, self-doubt, performance anxiety.
I’ve had similar fears, not wanting to try something new because I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.
The funny thing about this is I know I’ve taken plenty of risks before. (Moving overseas comes to mind) I’ve faced down the failure-fear to step out and give things a go. And yet, I’ve also been held captive in other situations, stopped by the lurking questions:
What would failure in this area mean to me? What would it mean about me?
When the new adventure means opening up to an integral part of myself, when the failure could attack something deep in the core of who I am, taking the risk to swim out into the deep water feels overly risky.
If I fail, it could change how I see myself.
If I fail, I might have to give up a dream.
Never mind that I’m not really acting on that dream in the shallow end anyway. Oh sure, a few splashes here and there, a little back stroke. Sure, the games in the shallow end can be fun for a time. And yet my heart longs to be where my feet don’t touch ground. I desire it and I’m scared of it.
It is hard work swimming in the deep end. But that’s not what scares me away.
Just like my friend who was afraid to take her swim test, I’m afraid to put myself out there, and then let everyone watch me when I can’t pull it off.
The fear says that if I can’t pull it off, then maybe I’m not cut out for it. The fear says I will look ridiculous for trying.
Time for a new voice in the room. The one that says to give it a shot. The one that says you never know until you try.
My friend laughs at herself now. “Why did I spend so much time in the shallow end?”
Why do I?
I’m going to take courage in knowing that failure is a part of anything worthwhile.
I’m ready now. I’ll take the plunge to see what I’ve got. Don’t mind if my teeth chatter just a bit. It’s time to leave the shallow end, do the hard work, use these muscles, and see if this dream is worth working for.