When I was in elementary school, I really wanted to run for class president. Like, I really really wanted to run for class president. Ever since I was a kid I had this pathological need for people to look up to me; to listen to the things that I said, to read the things that I wrote. Class president was the perfect office for me— and I wanted it, so, so bad.
When it came time to turn in applications for elections, my application was not in the box. I hadn’t filled one out. I hadn’t even picked one up. I was afraid. Afraid of losing.
Now I realize that the only thing holding me back from running for office was my fear of losing the election. I was worried that the other candidates were more popular than me; that they would get more applause after the speech, that in the end they would walk away victorious while I would be forced to bear the shame of loss.
I was so young! And already I had this huge fear of losing.
Why is our culture so afraid to lose? At what age do children develop a hatred of losing? My neighbors’ son cried whenever his soccer team lost a game. He was only eight— why did he care so much? Why do we fear losing so much, even as children?
We don’t like being shamed. We don’t like coming back as the loser of an election or a sports game only to hear consoling words from our family and friends. Those words of comfort hurt us more than soothe us. Losing rattles our confidence; destroys our self-esteem. And we don’t like feeling bad about ourselves. Similarly, us writers sometimes keep our work locked in the shelves, afraid that no one will like them; that no one will appreciate the hours and years we’ve poured into them.
Now I realize I was wrong to have been a coward. I could have been class president. I could have. If you don’t do something because you’re afraid of failure…all you’ll ever end up with is “could-haves.” Since then I’ve made a conscious effort to rework the gears in my brain to sidestep fear. I’ve cliff-dived off a 50-foot rock. I’ve waded into a stream with crabs. I’ve made connections with people I would normally have not dared to approach.
And I’ve surmounted my biggest fear: I went ahead and self- published my book online. Because once you realize all the opportunities you’ve missed because of your own silly fear, you’ll never want to miss another one. I encourage you all to recall everything in life you’ve passed on because you were too afraid…and now to change that “fear factor” within your own brains, and re-train yourselves to accept challenges with bravery.
At the end of your life, would you want to look back and remember a sea of missed opportunities? In five or six years, nobody will remember that one time you lost an election…or came in third in the local karaoke contest. Don’t be scared to run for office, or sing, or act, or publish your book and your poems…you don’t know all the readers who may come to adore you. The only person you’re cheating is yourself. Just do it. Take a shot. Risk it all. Because if you do, and you win…people will remember that. People will remember you, and praise your bravery.
Life is too short for second-guessing. Go after the things you want, no matter how outlandish your dreams may be. Fear of failure should not be in your mind. If nobody feared failure, I’m sure that American Idol would have three or four times as many auditions.
Don’t wait for opportunities to grab you— seize them, and don’t be afraid of the consequences should you fail. Life is full of failure, but the biggest failures are missed attempts.
Photo credit: Kyra Ashtin