My parents own a home video that was filmed when I was about five or six years old. It shows me standing on the edge of a swimming pool, arms propped up by gigantic orange floaties, each the size of my face. In the video, I’m trying to work up the courage to jump into the water, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to hold my breath long enough. I practice taking in big gulps of air, then immediately let them back out again as if I don’t really believe my lungs are on board with this. In the background, my dad’s voice can be heard, urging me to just go ahead and jump already, promising me that I’ll be able to hold my breath for the split second I’ll be underwater, assuring me that I’m not going to drown.
But I played it safe that day. I didn’t jump in the water.
I remember watching that video when I was much older and thinking that I was such a silly little girl. So timid, so nervous, so cautious. But the truth is, I’m not one for taking risks. I never have been–not as a young girl, and not as an adult, either.
Thinking about going skydiving? Count me out.
In the mood for an evening stroll around an unfamiliar part of town? Nah, I think I’ll pass.
Want me to try a bite of yogurt that’s just past its expiration date? Definitely not happening.
Ask anyone who knows me, and they will confirm that I am in no way a risk taker. Few of them, however, know the main reason why: because I am terrified of failure.
I’ve written previously about my drive toward perfectionism, its link to shame, and the way it paralyzes forward movement in my life. I’ve always operated with the mentality that if there is a high probability that I will not succeed at something, I probably shouldn’t try it. It’s a safe way of living, to be sure.
But a pretty lame one, too.
Now, I’m exploring something where my likelihood of success is realistically quite small. I wrote a novel. I’m editing said novel. And I want to try to publish my novel. There are plenty of reasons why that won’t happen, why I’ll never get published.
In other words, I’m probably going to fail.
But something happened recently as I was preemptively mourning my impending future loss: I made a decision. I decided that I didn’t want to play it safe with my writing. I didn’t want to do what I’ve always done, risking very little, expecting even less, and sustaining only minor bruises to my ego if things don’t work out in the end.
I want to fail spectacularly.
I’m talking the miserable, shameful, no hope of recovery kind of failing. I want to fall from grace so hard that it leaves my nose bloody and broken. I want to hit the ground so bad that the dirt lodges itself deep in my throat and I’m coughing up dust for the next several weeks.
Now that is true failure.
To be clear, I would absolutely prefer to succeed. But just in case I don’t, I’ve decided that I don’t want the reason for my failure to be because I didn’t try hard enough. I don’t want it to be because I was too afraid to hold my breath, to count to three, and to launch my prissy butt into the air.
So while I’m quite sure I never actually will go skydiving, and while I still strongly believe that it’s a bad idea for anyone to eat yogurt past its expiration date, I do want to start taking risks. At least with the things that matter most to me, the desires that cling desperately to my heart and refuse to be shaken off by the voice of fatalism.
Whatever I do, I refuse to fail softly.
(Props to General Ghost for so perfectly summing up my feelings on this matter with a delightfully catchy tune. Good job, boys.)