5 years ago, when I was training as a coach, part of the very drawn out accreditation process involved submitting taped recordings of ‘practice’ client sessions for assessment.
I failed the assessment.
I was nervous, bumbly and new to coaching and the recorded sessions highlighted that. I didn’t think through the questions I asked and I raced through the session, desperate to get it over so I could stop the recording. I’ve never been one for performing under pressure, although, weirdly, I love public speaking. Also: during the recordings, one practice client—very sweetly but not all that helpfully—kept interrupting our session by saying things like, “You are such an amazing coach, Liz!” and “You’ve helped me soooooooo much!” and then he’d wink at me and give me the thumbs up, and I would silently mouth back to him that he didn’t need to say that and to just carry on as normal and then he would silently mouth back, “What?” and wave me away with his hands in a “Listen, I got this, I’m helping you!” kind of way and would give me the thumbs up again and by this point, my hands were really sweating and I’d forgotten what I’d even asked him and really? The whole session and recording was a fucking shit show.
I remember the email that came through from the accreditation guy:
“Great in parts, Liz. But it’s a no. We need you to submit another recording.”
Stab in the chest moment. I am not good enough moment.
This is life.
We mess stuff up.
We don’t pass the test.
We say stupid shit we don’t mean….that we later regret.
We don’t get the job.
We miss the payment.
We forget our lines.
We drop the ball.
We are human. We will fail.
And yet despite this: I don’t ever want to fail at anything, do you? I don’t ever want to look stupid or have people say, “I told you so.” I don’t ever want something to not work out. I don’t ever want to have to admit that I was wrong. I don’t ever want to be scared.
I want everything I do in life to unfold perfectly, just the way I imagined. I wanted to submit the perfect recording for my assessment and it to be the most perfect recorded session ever and to breeze through the accreditation process and be the perfect A* trainee coach. Ha!
Life’s not like that though.
I fail at something most days. I mess up, I make mistakes, I mis-judge. I flip at my partner over a situation I completely read the wrong way. I spend hours and hours writing an article, absolutely certain it’ll be a hit, and….it isn’t. I sit down to meditate, and 3 minutes in, my mind is racing and I fidget constantly and can’t wait for my 10 minutes to be up. I go all out in the swimming pool, my lungs bursting, my arms burning, and yet I don’t swim the 400 metres in the time I set myself. I go for dinner with my German-speaking friends and spend minutes composing a grammatically-correct reply in my head, only to open my mouth and realise the conversation has moved on. I send an email pitching an exciting idea or collaboration or coaching project, and I receive a “Thanks, but no thanks.” Or worse, I hear nothing.
I don’t like failing. And yet I know I always will in some way or another. I can’t escape it, because I choose to live my life in a way that leaves me wide open to failure. I refuse to sit on the sidelines of my life, not saying or doing or going for things simply because I don’t want to fuck up.
I spend a lot of time listening and talking to people about their lives, and one thing I hear over and over again is that they’re scared of failing….except they don’t quite come right out and say that they are scared of failing. Instead, they tell me about how stuck they are in their lives and how near-impossible it is for them to change and do things. I hear their very-convincing excuses and reasons and stories about how they’ve tried before, how they can’t do XYZ because the kids are still so little, or they don’t have the money or the confidence or the time or the motivation or the fitness or the talent or the discipline or the skills. And yet…..all I hear is their fear.
Their fear of failing. Of fucking up.
We want everything to be easy in life, don’t we? We want everyone to like us. We want to feel comfortable. We want everything we turn our hand to to be a guaranteed success. We don’t want to have to really try at things. We don’t want to rock the boat or feel unsafe. We are addicted to comfort and absolute certainty and yet there is ZERO certainty.
We choose to tiptoe around our lives like new-parents stealthily creeping around their sleeping newborn, shhhh don’t wake the failure.
I want to live in a world where people do fail. Where people are a-ok with failing.
Why? Because staying stuck and not doing the things you want to, is far, far fucking worse than failing will ever be.
If you’re not failing at things, you’re probably not fully living. Maybe you’re just skirting around the edges of your life and dipping your toe in now and then.
This is a rally call to be ok with failing!
Let’s invite failure in for the ride.
Let’s give ourselves permission to fuck things up.
Are you with me?