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On Success

April 22, 2010

“To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.” -Mark Twain

As a child, I did not know to fear failure. It didn’t occur to me that such a thing was possible. I wrote plays. I choreographed an entire ballet in my living room, which only my parents and Cabbage Patch Kids saw. I wrote passionate essays about dinosaurs because, well, I love dinosaurs. I’ve read that self-doubt is more prevalent in small children than ever before, but I can’t remember that being the case 20 years ago. As children, we express passion for what we do because we’re filled with it. It overflows. As children, we’re capable of dreaming that we can be Presidents and Diane Sawyer, and we believe those dreams can be real. I can actually remember the first teacher that made me feel stupid: my 4th grade math teacher. She told me I was bad at math and sat me in the back, even though I should have been in the front. I believed her, and still do. Years later in high school, I barely made it through Algebra 2.

Is it possible to unlearn fear? I know to be true that with failure comes experience. Some of my greatest moments of clarity were born from the rubble of failures, some colossal and some relatively small. But sometimes I’d like to know what it feels like to trade in that experience for a naiveté that would protect me from the fear that prevents me from accomplishing everything possible. Would I be more successful if I was ignorant to the weight of frustration and regret? It’s a question as old as the Bible: Would you rather be blissfully ignorant, or be aware and be unhappy/fearful?

As we reach new levels of professional success, it’s easy to grow more fearful. In our lizard brains (to quote Seth Godin), there is a direct correlation between the size of the opportunity and size of the failure, should you blow it.

I guess the point is, to be successful, we have to forget or ignore that we might not be perfect, that we might suck. We have to thank that little voice for it’s concern, for being considerate enough to warn us of possible danger ahead, then forge ahead anyway. I don’t know if it’s possible, but for the first time, I’m going to embrace little E and try.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 23, 2010 12:26 am

    That’s terrible what your teacher said. That’s not how teachers are supposed to act. You’re right though, I read about how fear and success are related to one another. I don’t know about unlearning fear but I know about overcoming fear. The first step is to identify them and then face them. It’s a hard process which is why I applaud those people joining Fear Factor. I couldn’t be brave enough to face those kinds of fears.

  2. Marie permalink
    April 25, 2010 1:30 pm

    I can totally relate to this post and I struggle with the very same personal battle on a daily basis. Many people do not realize that the things you say to a child stick in their mind, and when it becomes repetitive, that child begins to actually believe it.
    I grew up hearing from my own mother, that I’d never amount to anything and that I would never be able to keep a friend or boyfriend. Among many other verbally abusive things, I was compared to the other kids in my class, as if I wasn’t as good as they were. This stuck with me and has evolved into that fear of failure – the fear that everything she said to me, might actually be true. I’ve been told to get passed it, to use it as fuel and prove her wrong, but it’s like it’s etched in my mind forever. Words that come out of a parents’ mouth are the ones you rely on, believe in and seek after – how is someone just supposed to ‘get over it’?
    I strive to have the strength each day to unlearn this fear and to rid myself of the self-doubt that haunts me. Thank you for this post, Esther. I think, together, we can use this fear to fuel our success.

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      April 29, 2010 10:31 am

      Marie –
      You have no idea how much I appreciate your comment. It is further proof that we never know what other people are dealing with, what they’re struggling with. It shows us (and me, really) how important compassion is.
      I’ve been told countless times to “get past it.” Easier said than done, right? I’m clearly in good company. I’m guessing most talented, driven people experience self-doubt sometimes. It’s whether we let it get the best of us that makes the all the difference.
      Thank you for your post. You’re awesome.
      -Esther

  3. April 28, 2010 11:12 pm

    Isn’t it weird that people who are supposed to love us and encourage us, they’re the ones who hurt us the most? You’re so brave and strong to have to overcome this challenge everyday.

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