One of the things I frankly fear as a writer is “missing the mark.” It happens now and then. Clients are typically frustrated or angered by that outcome. In a worst case scenario, that means going back to the starting line to begin again. In that situation, we have to wrestle with our worst fears.
That feeling of missing the mark or even blowing the opportunity to compete at all is the kind of stress that can make you question everything you have every done. The lyrics from the Pink Floyd song Time describe that sense of loss. They are some one of the most angst-filled words in all of rock music:
“Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun….”
Thoughts like that can haunt you at any age. The fear of missing out on something in the future is one end of the spectrum. The fear of having missed out on something in the past is what haunts older people.
Failure to Lunch
My son Evan Cudworth is engaged in a mission to help people come to grips with failures past, present or future. It’s called Failure to Lunch. He’s courageously addressed his own personal challenges in many ways. Now he’s encouraging others to come out about their own failures. That way issues can be seen in the clear light of day rather than circling around as ruminative fears and anxieties that hold us back.
The feeling right after you’ve failed at something is paralyzing. A squandered opportunity, a gross mistake or a blind spot in your emotional intelligence can lead to painful results. Add in the native anxiety or depression that many people carry around and daily life feels like never reaching the starting line. Those emotional states rob us of present enjoy and create ambiguity within us.
Fear of failure and success
Back when I raced frequently the fear of failure was almost as bad as the actual experience of losing. So was the fear of success, the idea that if you achieve something difficult it will become the new standard by which you are measured and expected to perform. There are pressures to that too.
Back when he was setting world records at the half-mile distance, a runner from my hometown named Rick Wolhuter was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune and his words captured a significant reason why he was able to achieve at such a high level, including an Olympic Gold Medal. “Pressure is self-inflicted,” he observed.
As a young runner that idea that pressure was self-inflicted seemed difficult to grasp. How do you hope to achieve anything if you don’t apply some self-pressure? That was my approach to that question at the time, but it misses the mark. What Wolhuter clearly meant is that self-inflicted pressure that leads to a fear of failure is the enemy, not pressure itself.
When we’re excited by the idea that our competitors are actually there to help us in some way, self-pressure is not longer the focus of our attention. That’s what healthy competition is all about. Testing ourselves is a necessary and required part of life.
Some people don’t believe in that. Competition turns them off. A few times in life I’ve wished that I could be anywhere but the circumstance in which I was “forced” to compete. I think back to a conference cross country meet my junior year in college. That year had been filled with adverse situations. By late October with the fading light and the struggles of weekly competition my find turned dark and negative. I ran two minutes slower than I’d ever run before. In some ways I actually “missed the starting gun” and was going through the motions only to get the race over with. I’d failed the test.
But I survived and that winter committed to better training and performance. By spring I was setting all my personal records on the track. I was still a long-haired, bearded menace of a person inside in some ways. That included a toxic relationship with a woman that ended badly.
That summer, I cut off my long hair, shaved the ugly beard off my face and got contact lenses. That period of failure had transformed me in some ways. We have to keep learning these lessons of renewal however. My new friend Andre texted me this morning after I canceled an appointment due to a difficult work issue. He sent me a note that said, “Fear is a purifying element.”
He’s right. While it is painful to acknowledge these aspects in ourselves, they are consistently instructive and indeed purifying. Wrestling with fear and purification is a lifelong process. Running and riding and cycling are therapy. So is writing, painting and getting out nature.