Does a fear of failing prevent you from beginning things?
If you quit, what will you do instead that is more rewarding?
Congratulations! You’ve overcome the pessimism and inertia. You’re in motion. The hardest part is over. But getting out on the road and beginning the journey does not mean that the difficulties are over. Nothing worth doing is achieved lightly and there will be plenty of rough patches. You need to begin to be able to balance a hunger for success with a sanguine, uninhibited approach to the possibility of failure.
In a windowless, filthy room in Damascus, I cried my eyes out: I was not going to make it round the world. I could not stick it out. I had bitten off more than I could chew. It was too hard. I was not up to it. I was going to fail. It was my dream life and I didn’t want it anymore. I was absolutely on the brink of riding out to the airport to jack it all in and return home. I have never been so low in my life. It was the closest I ever came to surrendering.
“How did I have the audacity and arrogance to think that I could pedal through Africa?” I asked myself over and over, clutching for answers. “How could I have committed myself to years of this madness?”
I tried to focus on why I wanted to continue, hoping to highlight the positives. I had always said that if I ever found something better to do with my life than riding round the world, then I would do it: I did not begin the ride solely with the purpose of reaching the end.
But I had not yet thought of (and still haven’t) anything more exciting and rewarding to replace it. I knew that if I quit I was likely to regret it one day. I thought of how frustrated I had been with life in England, how eager to get away from comfortable complacency. I thought of all the experiences I would miss by going home. I was lucky. I had an ambition and I had the opportunity to pursue it. It was now or never for my dream of many years. Was I going to give that up?
Does a fear of failing prevent you beginning?
A fear of failing and a fear of what others would think about my failure certainly motivated me in the first couple of years on the road. I am grateful, however, that it did not prevent me from beginning in the first place. I felt that, with a project such as this, it was better to have a go than not to try.
If you quit, what will you do instead that is more rewarding?
This was my mantra when times were tough. I never thought of anything better. And so I never quit. I also had a rule that I was not allowed to pack it all in when I was cold, tired, sick, hungry, or at night. I did not want to jump recklessly into doing something I would regret as soon as I cheered up.
A memory bank of previous experiences – the cerebral version of an athlete’s ‘muscle memory’ – helps you to see things through, confident in the knowledge that if you’ve done it before, surely you can do it again. Unfortunately this means that the first, most difficult step into the unknown is made even harder by having no memory bank of prior experiences to help stiffen your resolve.
A difficulty of setting bold goals is that for much of your journey you will travel alone, alone in your head, with no scaffolding of prior experience to prop you up, no memory of a previous path to guide you, no support from friends and family who have no experience with which to help you. Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, ‘what is the use?’ Despair and doubt will be your all too-frequent travel companions.
This is why quitting is not an option. Because the road you have chosen will be onerous and the serpent in your mind will twist and turn you towards the primrose-lined easy alternative. You’ll come up with all sorts of excuses that justify giving the whole nonsense up. However, if you can persevere through it all, you will be stronger for the next time. You will have your rewards. You just have to get through the first time.
Failing doesn’t make you a failure. Giving up, accepting your failure, refusing to try again does!
– Richard Exely
Whilst I am adamant about the rewards that are earned if you learn to detest quitting, I do not think you should worry about failure. If you take on difficult challenges, you will fail at many, if not most, of them. Fear of failure is something that strongly motivates us not to give up, but the dread of failure must not be so strong that we hesitate to even begin a task for fear of failing it.
Dreading defeat is too often responsible for people not even beginning something. This stifles daring and stops you taking on the challenge that, if successful, could be the making of you. Sure, you may fail, but so long as you fought hard you should not look back on that with remorse. With a determination to improve, or act differently perhaps, but not with regret.
But if you do not even have a go, there will be nothing to show later except bitter grumbles of “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve”.
Run if you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must. But never, ever stop. Never stop.
– Dean Karnazes
The excitement of hatching your dream is just a memory now. The injection of energy you received by taking the first steps on the long walk towards your outrageous goal has long since ebbed. You have taken a sobering reality check of how much hard graft lies ahead of you. You have begun to doubt your ability or determination to see it through. You have even started to question whether it is even worth continuing.
Step back through your memory to remember why you began this journey. Reflect on how excited you were to begin. You were excited because you well knew that the end result was important and alluring to you. Do not lose sight of that now.
On my ride I had a rule that I was not allowed to quit when I was tired, sick, hungry or afraid. At times like those you are apt to make rash, short-term decisions.
Become comfortable in your mind that failing is not shameful, and that you must not let the fear of failure suffocate your desire to act. Remember how much you wanted this in the first place. Now you will be free to act with bold determination, working towards something you desperately wish to accomplish.
Dream big and dare to fail.
– Norman Vaughan
If you enjoyed this chapter you can read the rest of Ten Lessons From the Road here.