Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Risk & Reward

I used to be deeply afraid to risk. The fear of failure loomed so large that it stopped me before I even began. I didn't want to fail, so I didn't try. Not surprisingly, I had a huge gap between my dreams and the reality of what I actually accomplished. I firmly believed in the adages about stepping away from the shore, and nothing ventured, nothing gained, but believing is not the same as doing.

Getting past my fear of failing was the single best thing I've done to progress down the road from dreams to reality. Perfectionism is like a pair of handcuffs, immobilizing you and keeping you stuck. Once in a while, I would get sick of not moving anywhere, and inch my way forward, only to hear that horribly mean voice in my head say, "You can't do this, idiot. Better stay where you are instead of making a fool out of yourself."

Silencing that inner critic freed me up to see that risk and reward are closely related. You don't get one without the other. Successful people aren't actually lucky, they are perseverant, and push through their fear to make it to the other side. For years I fed myself lies about why certain people "made it" and I didn't, but I see now that I was too afraid of risk to reap any of its rewards.

Staying safe might hurt less in the short term, but long term, it's much worse for you. Others move forward and you stay in the same place. I eventually wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, instead of watching everyone else progress while I stayed stuck in the mud. Being perfect is not possible. It's the illusion of water in the desert; a mirage and nothing more. We are all imperfect. It's part of being human.

Shoring up confidence so that we can manage the stress of failure is the best way I know to get ahead in this life. For every success we achieve, there are often a string of failures which preceded it. I've accepted this now and it doesn't upset me like it used to. I don't expect other people to be perfect, so why did I put this on myself for so many years? Making mistakes is incredibly liberating now. I apologize, I learn something, I dust myself off and carry on. And then eventually I see something good come from it.

Taking risks and seeing rewards has changed the fabric of my entire life. It has left no stone unturned. I am completely different now as a result of this long-overdue revelation that perfectionism was killing my dreams in the same way that a deadly disease would attack the body. I know now that failure is not my enemy. That honour belonged to perfectionism, my near-constant companion for most of my life.

Failure is a teacher, and it hurts badly to endure the instruction, but the lessons learned will last a lifetime. Risk is not an option if you want to turn your dreams into a reality. It is a requirement. And when you begin to risk, you will see the reward, provided you don't give up when you fail. And failure is as certain in the process as reward, and will occur often, but it's a sign that you are on your way to reward, as long as you don't quit.

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