I’ve been struggling with self-confidence and a fear of failure.
No matter the number of times you read the preceding sentence, it doesn’t change me admitting a struggle with my mental health. In all likelihood, those were the most difficult string of words to pen knowing they’d be released to the wild. For the majority of my life, self-confidence was an issue that simply didn’t exist.
So why until recently has a fear of failure and self-confidence not been an issue for me? 2015 was a year of reflection and meditation on my life – it led me to the conclusion that until Mandi and I started a life together and eventually had children, the way in which I approached and navigated my life seemed to be at the will of others – what they thought I should be doing and what they felt would be the best educational, career, and personal path to follow. Not a pursuit of what mattered to me. I was living my life with an unstable voice with little purpose.
Joining a Mastermind forced me to confront the trajectory of the path I had been aimlessly trotting. I wasn’t engaged in meaningful relationships. In fact, many were unhealthy. I wasn’t doing work I enjoyed and I wasn’t consuming literature and writing poetry and fiction like I’d always dreamed.
In the barest sense of things, I wasn’t being honest with myself – I was unhappy and couldn’t find my place in any vocation. Vocation is Latin for “calling.” A calling isn’t something you just find – you must be willing to allow your calling to find you. I wasn’t open to the notion of waiting to meet my calling. I ignored all the indicators that came about.
Once I realized I was living a lie of sorts, I started putting myself in situations that would allow me to flourish.
I began developing relationships with people doing meaningful work. I became a father. My longing to write was no longer a distant dream, it was progressing to a reality. All of the characteristics of life I wanted but worried what others would think if I actually immersed myself in them were coming to fruition. The decisions I made and how I spent my time began to matter.
I was liberated. But that was only temporary.
First came a rejection from a publisher. A business of mine crashed and burned. Then another rejection from a literary journal. Then another. Followed by another publisher offering me some advice to “pursue something else outside of writing because she hated to see so much struggle.” Then a client blew off a significant invoice for work I’d already performed.
The final breaking point was a relationship with a colleague early in 2015. For over a year, I was manipulated and lied to. Oblivious to the reality of the situation, I allowed myself to be taken advantage of in a way I never thought possible. I’ve written about how I coped with the experience but as substantial time has passed, the distance has allowed me to realize to what extent the experience damaged me. I’m not claiming to be a victim. Admittedly, I’ve never endured physical or emotional abuse that so many others face on a daily basis, but nonetheless, the experience did considerable damage to my mental health. As a result, I began questioning my decision making and doubting my ability to really be “successful.” I started to doubt the authenticity of nearly everyone around me leaving me to puzzle over if I was wallowing in a perpetual state of bullshit.
In the end, the experience shattered my self-confidence and I was left in a deep and dark place.
I was tip-toeing around people, concerned that if I let my guard down I might end up in the same demoralized place. It’s not fully clear why I hung on to that relationship as long as I did. It seems to be because I had invested so much time in the organization and mission that I couldn’t dare see it fail.
The bigger conundrum was the effect it had on my writing, relationships, and other passions. As the relationship was finally ending, I was given the book “Do the Work” by Steven Pressfield. I read it twice the same day it arrived. It made me realize my mental health was causing a flaw in my creative process and relationships.
That flaw is the fear of failure. Most of the time it was debilitating.
In “Do the Work,” Pressfield outlines what he calls our “enemies.” One of them is resistance. He refers to things like self-doubt, fear, and procrastination as examples of resistance. As a force of nature, resistance aims to kill. I was still creative in the sense I had ideas and engaged in the work, but something would stop me dead in my tracks.
Pressfield says as a rule of thumb, “the more important a call to action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we feel toward pursuing it.”
For the most part, the fear of failure is the source of negative and self-destructive thinking and decision making. I was no exception. My days were clouded with self-doubt. In my own way of hiding the struggle, I started saying yes to everyone and everything, even things that mattered very little. As a result, I was missing deadlines and meetings and only perpetuating my overall state of mind.
The mystical poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, encourages us to embrace and grow from our flaws and defeats in the final three lines of his poem, “The Man Watching.”
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows; by being defeated, decisively,
By constant greater beings.
The focus shouldn’t hinge on the flaw itself, but in how we respond. I confronted the source and acknowledged that I was indeed afraid of another failure. By taking to heart my flaw and allowing it to lead me elsewhere, I was taken to places beyond my reach and out of my control.
It’s in these mental states of vulnerability that I realized we aren’t on this earth for worldly achievements alone.
Moving forward, I’ll embrace rejection and defeat. It won’t be painless or something I welcome, but I when it does present itself, I’ll allow myself to learn and grow from the experience instead of allowing it to alter my confidence.
How will you enable yourself to grow in the face of defeat?