When I started my career, I was terrified of making mistakes. I was afraid of failure, and of being ‘found out’ as an imposter. I recognise now the amount this held me back from pushing my comfort zone, and from learning through trying new things. I recognised at an intellectual level that people often learnt a lot from trying, even if they fail, but I held myself back as my ego had such an attachment to success first time around.
One of my favourite coaches Steve Chandler talks about people’s unhealthy aversion to getting things wrong, and points out that certain things categorically cannot be done without failing multiple times first. Think about a baby learning to walk. They try, they fall over. They try, take half a step forward and fall over. They try again – and fall over many more times. A baby does not have the self-conscious fear of failure holding them back. They don’t think – I’m just not cut out for this walking business – and quit.
When I started my ‘proper’ job, I had a challenging first role – which in retrospect was pretty incompatible with my strengths and interests. During those initial few weeks, I remember feeling very disconnected from my role and what I was doing in it. I felt uncertain about everything I tried to do, and this meant I held myself back from taking any initiative or being proactive. I was frozen into inaction, and subconsciously I must have decided it was safer to hold back from immersing myself in the role, rather than get stuck in and give it a go.
This also happened when I first dabbled with the idea of being a coach. I knew I had deeply buried dreams about what I wanted to do, but the fear of getting something wrong – of making a mistake and looking foolish – kept me stuck for a long time. If I didn’t try, I couldn’t fail, and as I kept myself safely nested in my comfort zone, I reasoned I could always think about coaching “someday” in the future.
The longer we stay stuck, the harder we feel it is to start. In retrospect, I don’t think this is true, but is something we tell ourselves as if to reaffirm our helplessness and our perceived inability to change our behaviour. I often used to reason that as I’d procrastinated starting my coaching qualification for so long, maybe it was never going to happen – and it would probably be a good idea to forget about it.
I considered a career change to coaching as risky and unrealistic. I couldn’t see a clear path, which prevented me from getting started as I didn’t want to get it wrong. Looking back, I realise that no matter how long I planned for it, I would always have had to make some mistakes in order to succeed as a coach.
Doing our best and aiming high is a great thing. But when we place such a high importance on getting things perfect on the first go, it can leave us feeling like we won’t even bother to try. Like a baby falling over and learning to make walking work for them, I’ve needed to fall down and experience some failure in order to work out how to make things work for me. And I intent to keep doing so.
“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate”
Thomas Watson Snr, Creator of IBM
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