Several years ago I had a dream to have my artwork published in a Better Homes and Gardens coffee table book. It was kind of a fantasy, like living on a beach in Maui or winning the lottery (which really wouldn’t be one OR the other, because if I win the lottery I’m going to be living on that beach) I never believed it would come true because my work was nowhere near the level of the artists in that book.
Anyway, about the same time our oldest son was applying to colleges, his dream school was Florida Tech, half a continent away from home and a million miles above our budget. I kept telling him “Try. You might fail. You might go to the University of Nebraska, but if you don’t at least try you will never be sunburning your nose on a college campus in Florida.”.
Then one day it hit me, I was giving my son advice I was too chicken to follow myself. I was back to that teenage girl in high school, afraid to try out for the school plays or run for class office or apply for a job at the cool store or let a boy know I liked him because someone would make fun of me when I crashed and burned.
It was easier to just not try than to try and maybe fail. I was talking the talk to my son when I wouldn’t walk the walk for myself. I didn’t want my kid to live his adult life, giving up on his dreams because he was chicken like his mom. I needed to live what I was preaching.
So I choked back nausea and mailed off the submission to BH&G…….and the whole time I was sealing the envelope I was telling myself “It doesn’t matter if they laugh at my work, they are hundreds of miles away and I won’t be able to hear them. I can tell myself this got lost in the mail.”
Well, you can guess the rest of the story. In true Hallmark movie fashion, about three weeks later I got a call from an Editor at the magazine telling me they would like to feature me as an artist in their upcoming book. And our son got a huge scholarship and went to Florida Tech.
The thing is, how many great experiences have I missed out on in life because I was afraid of failure? How many times was success a given but I never even tried? I remember the last day of senior year and the drama teacher said “There is one girl in this class who could have had any role in any play she ever wanted, but she never even tried out.”. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized I was the only girl in that class who had never been in a play.
So I’ve learned to ask myself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” and if I think I can live with the worst-case scenario, I’ve learned to go for it. And even if the worst-case scenario is unspeakably horrible, I’ve learned to weigh the odds and realize the worst-case rarely, if ever, happens.
One of the nicest things about getting older is you tally up a lot of successes. Failure doesn’t bother me anymore because I have plenty of successes in my life to give me confidence. I know what I’m capable of and I’m not bothered by the things I can’t do. And those people that might poke fun at me when I crash and burn, which I’ve done and they do? Funny thing, I realized I don’t really care what those people think.
When you realize that, they lose their power to hurt you. And the people whose opinions do matter to me? Well, they would never ridicule me for pursuing a dream.
But the thing is I never would have had a single one of my successes if I hadn’t gotten past that fear of failure. In my art studio, where I sit, right at eye level is a sign. It says “Imagine what you would try if you knew you could not fail*”. I look at it every day.
* loosely from a quote by Robert Mueller