Afraid of Failure

by Ron
Afraid of Failure

Image Source: True New Zealand Advent, Creative Commons

I am not a trekker. Although I do own a trekking stick (very high tech with a camera mount on the top) and for a while I did subscribe to a trekking magazine with wonderful, high gloss photos of small groups of people in their hiking boots, cargo pants and trekking sticks walking across pristine landscapes in Scotland and Ireland with periodic stops for wine and cheese and their porters ferrying their luggage to be waiting for them at the next B&B. While adventuresome is portrayed a very serine and safe journey.

But recently, I read an article about Carmichael. His day time job is the CEO of a high-end coffee supply company. His avocation is Trekking. Real Trekking! Having accomplished treks across some of the most remote and inhospitable places in the world, his latest challenge is Death Valley. Hard-core trekkers regard Death Valley as undoable and there is no known record of any human being accomplishing the task. He had just failed at his second attempt to trek across the valley. Listen to some of his words:

“Everyone focuses on risk and failure. What happens if you fail? How do you mitigate the risk? I look around and see people who live in the safest places in the world, and they are preoccupied with anxieties and fears because they don’t know what risk is anymore.”

Once he said it I realized that I observe this exact behavior in all of the people I meet and even in the corporate cultures that I work with. Some people take on entirely new careers in their lives while others make one shift to a different team in a company they’ve worked at for twenty and think “phew, I made that leap without failing”. Some corporate cultures are moving into emerging parts of the world with processes and technology totally different from what they’ve used for fifty years while others will make a merger offer and then back away from it as too risky when a slightly increased counter offer is presented. We seem to use the same scale for measuring risk as if we are a kid contemplating jumping across a puddle or if we’re walking steel 200 feet in the air (a personal experience of mine ;-).

After his second failed attempt to trek across Death Valley, Carmichael said “That’s it. It’s over dude.” At that moment of failure he didn’t see any way that he would ever attempt this one again. But later he had begun to absorb his experience.

“The word that goes through your mind is fail, fail, fail. But once you get some perspective you realize that you learned something important. In the end, it’s not about how many tries you needed to get something done. It’s about not quitting and keeping at it until you achieve the goal. So, no, I didn’t fail. Failure is if it broke me. I just didn’t make it – this time.”

How do we break out of our own ring of risk? That bubble that we live in where the most risky thing inside our bubble looks like the riskiest thing anywhere? We get outside of our bubble! We get to know people who live in other bubbles. We learn of their efforts, failures, successes, heart aches, joys and start seeing the world through a different set of eyes. Suddenly when we look back into our own bubble, we realize that that daunting risk that we’ve been facing is nothing more than a little puddle. If you only see the world through your own perspective, it can become a very risky place and you will become very risk averse.

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