If you ask most people to list their freedoms, they might tell you they are free to vote, to succeed, to make choices or to pursue happiness. I doubt they will say they are free to fail. And yet, without this freedom we can be paralyzed as artists, individuals and spirits. (One opposite fear, ironically, is the fear of success—but that’s another blog.)
Fear of failing is often drummed into us as children when some of us learn that failure can result in lack of acceptance and debilitating criticism. These “not okay” communications can come from parents, teachers or peers. They can be reinforced in adulthood. Overcoming negative messages is essential to doing and being what God intended us to be when He created us to fulfill our personal potential.
Have you ever heard the following: “Anyone who isn’t making mistakes isn’t doing anything”? Embedded in this phrase is the freedom to make mistakes. The fear of failure is chief among emotions that lead to the lack of successful living and a waste of talent. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933—at the peak of the depression—made the famous statement: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He knew that fear could paralyze an entire nation.
When I start a new writing project, I am sometimes afraid of failure, success, inability, etc. But if I stay paralyzed by fear, I will accomplish nothing. I tell myself, “You are apprehensive, but that alone can’t stop you. You are permitted to fail. Now get busy!” At that point, I can plant myself in front of the computer, take a risk and start writing.
Of course, the greater the risk taken, the greater the risk of failure. As it is, many people don’t take risks because fear dominates many of their decisions. Some writers stay within a comfortable genre, not only because they love it but because they can succeed with the familiar. To go outside the creative comfort zone and try something new requires ambitious goals and a willingness to take on diverse challenges. It can only be done with an understanding that we must accept the possibility of failure before we can succeed.
When I was involved in our local National Writer’s Association (NWA) meetings, a monthly prize was awarded to the person who had the most rejections for publication. He would receive an NWA mug in recognition of effort. The award was meant to teach us that when it comes to publishing, it is usually the one rejected the most who gets published the most. (I won so many times that I collected a considerable mug set. :-)) It taught me to stop fearing rejection and keep making the effort to get published.
Failure is an opportunity to improve. Failed experiments often lead to discoveries not on the agenda. (Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming, while trying to investigate staph, and as a result of sloppiness, found a strange fungus on a culture—a fungus that had killed off all other bacteria in the culture. With this serendipitous discovery, modern medicine was forever changed.) Failed writing is simply an opportunity to be a better wordsmith. It is a measure of strength that failure merely propels the writer into some new attempt to succeed.
Anyone who embraces the freedom to fail will strive on, learn new things, occasionally change direction and eventually reach his goals. The freedom to fail will be his friend.