Overcoming the Fear of Failure

While attending secondary school, I used to run cross-country and was moderately good; good enough to run for the school and my county on a couple of occasions. Prior to becoming paralysed in 1991, I wanted to run the London Marathon. You know, one of those things I was ‘going to do’. I saw it as an egoic challenge and something that would make me feel good if I was to complete it.

Although the accident that followed left me unable to feel or move any of my body below my chest, let alone run any kind of marathon, the desire for a challenge never left me. Yes, the London Marathon can be completed in a wheelchair, but my triceps in my arms are virtually useless pushing a manual wheelchair more than a few-hundred yards, even on a smooth flat surface. Any kind of bump immediately halts any progress in momentum.

Instead, I set my sights on a different challenge. John O’Groats to Lands End, or in other words, the northernmost point of mainland UK to the southernmost point, culminating in nearly 900 miles by road.

My mind never lost sight of this desire, even while other things of my life took priority. I spoke about it regularly to anybody that would listen. I talked about it as if it was going to happen…for sure, and I had no doubt that one day it was going to happen! Strangely, though, I never did anything about it. This continued for 15 years, all the while taking a back seat. I constantly made excuses and reasons why I hadn’t started the process. I would justify not doing it by believing I did not have all the answers and the complete plan ready to execute with perfect precision.

In short, I was ‘all talk and no action’. Yes, we’ve all done it and I’m no exception and taking action is one of my many things I’m still working on.

To cut a long story short so I can get to the point of the article, when I eventually set a date (1st August 2006) for the 900-mile challenge, I had no idea how I was going to accomplish it, apart from a vague plan in my head. The entire plan was basically… get a company to sponsor a faster wheelchair than my own and complete approximately 30 miles per day. I had no idea whether we were camping or in hotels, eating sandwiches or cooking by the side of the road, let alone where the funding was coming from.

We all have these desires of things we want to do, and sometimes they go right back to when we were children. The biggest issue is the issue of `not knowing how’ to get from where you are now to completing that goal. We have this fear of failing or getting it wrong left over from our childhood, and if this happens it will kill the desire entirely. We end up taking the safer route, which is to continue to dream rather than appear as a loser.

The better way to move through life is to remove or reduce that fear and realise we don’t need to know the entire plan. Any big challenge faces unforeseen problems, both in the planning and in the execution. It is crazy to think you can consider and sort every possibility.

You only need to know three things: what you want to achieve, the date you wish to achieve it, and the first step you need to take in order to start the ball rolling.

That “first step” is what gets you started on fulfilling your desire. You will grab the tools and the knowledge along the way. People who have started something with the greatest and most detailed of plans have fallen flat. There is no need to have all the ducks in a row to start your journey (adventure).

Did my 900-mile John O’Groats to Lands End go perfectly? No. I can’t say that it did.

Just after 500 miles, I fell out of the wheelchair and broke my shoulder, and the challenge was over. Maybe this is a bad example or you may see it as the perfect example, because I learned more from going for it and doing something even though I wasn’t able to see it through, than I ever did from doing nothing. I couldn’t foresee the accident and I have long since forgiven myself for not completing the journey.

The world didn’t end that evening when I broke my shoulder. The challenge was over but I still experienced the journey, just not the entire journey. Although the challenge was not completed, I learned so much about setting far-reaching and definite goals as well as setting a date for when that goal will be achieved. It forced action on my part, even if most days it was just a phone call or writing a letter to get it going. Even the biggest of challenges can only be put together in parts.

For around 18 months, I lived and breathed that challenge. I spoke about it non-stop. I’m sure I drove people mental with how I was going to achieve it. It didn’t work out anywhere near the way I thought it would, but that’s okay. I learned far more than I ever would have if I had continued to `just talk about it’.

Time to make a start! Take that first step and grow along the way.

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