Recently, NHL has been refusing to complete assignments in school. He’ll claim that they are too hard for him when we all know that he is perfectly capable of completing them. We’ve spoken with him and believe that one of the problems is that he’s afraid to fail. He so fears not succeeding at what he’s doing that he’d rather not make any attempt at all. This is something I can greatly sympathize with.
In my teen and college years, I would often find myself frozen (figuratively speaking). I would know what I wanted to do but fear would fill my mind. I would imagine what would happen if I didn’t succeed. In my mind’s eye, worst case scenario after worst case scenario would unfold. Would people laugh at me? Would I be ridiculed for years later for my horribly failed attempt. Even when I would make an attempt, I would often self-sabotage: acting at the last minute and thus being unable to properly complete the task. For example, the year when I decided to overcome my fears and go to a Halloween costume party… when it was too late to purchase a costume. I went in a homemade “costume” that seemed clever until I actually arrived at the party.
When I met TheAngelForever online, I knew there was something special about her and I decided to work hard to put my fears aside. I successfully squashed my fears every time they arose (with one notable exception*) and we dated happily. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have those fear-filled moments. I had a lot of them. Worst Case Scenarios would try to fill my mind but I’d push them back.
With NHL so much like me, I decided I was the best person to talk to him about failure fears. Yet, my words didn’t seem enough all by themselves. I needed a more concrete example. Luckily, this was supplied courtesy of Mythbusters. A recent episode saw them testing the Archimedes Death Ray for the third time (this time at the behest of President Obama) and a myth from the movie Hellboy (a super punch to a car’s hood will make it flip up and over the person).
As often happens in Mythbusters, they came up with a brilliant plan to test the myth only to have the plan fail spectacularly and repeatedly. The Hellboy myth’s steel fist (used since mythical creatures were in short supply) kept missing the cars. The cars missed their mark. The mirrors for the Archimedes Death Ray weren’t setting fire to the ship.
I pointed out to NHL how many times the Mythbusters failed. I told him one of the Mythbusters’ mottos: Failure is always an option. I told him that, when the Mythbusters failed, they figured out what went wrong and fixed it so that their next attempt would succeed. Did they want to fail? Of course not. Were they afraid of failure? Definitely not. Even a failed test can yield valuable data.
At the end of the show, Jamie was commenting on the busting of the Archimedes Death Ray. He remarked that the ship wasn’t set on fire but all the reflected light was extremely disconcerting. He theorized that the Archimedes Death Ray was really designed to distract and disorient invaders. Then, Jamie said something that should be taught to all kids. Something that I’ll definitely be repeating over and over to NHL.
“When we experiment… When we try things and we fail… We start to ask why. And that’s when we learn.”
* The one notable exception was after I first met TheAngelForever in person. After a great first in-person date, she was supposed to call me when she got home. I waited patiently but didn’t get a call. I began to imagine worst case scenarios including car accidents. I called and reached her mother. She said that B hadn’t arrived home yet and she would call me when she got home. After another hour, I called again… and again. By now, I was really afraid that something awful had befallen her. It turned out that she was parked in the driveway of a friend of hers, talking about how well the date went. My fears for B’s safety had endeared me to her mother. This one time, the only time I can think of, my fears actually did some good.