Fear of Making Mistakes: A Culture of Unrealistic Perfectionism

I have met more than my fair share of people who are afraid to try something new because they are afraid that they will make mistakes. Beginner’s luck is called that because most beginners do not have the skills they need in order to repeat their actions with perfection and they shouldn’t be able to. The whole point of trying something new is learning and adding to your toolbelt of skills and knowledge.

When you were a child, were you scared to try new things?
Did you need a little encouragement from your parents or from your friends?
When you tried and failed, did you try again?
Did you learn with each mistake you made?

Think about those old school arcade games, they were designed to be a hard as possible so that you would fail and pump more quarters into them. The more times you played, the better you got. The same as when you were told to practice a musical instrument for band class or riding your bike.

Now you are an adult. What does that mean? Mostly, it means that you are responsible for your actions or inactions. If you commit a crime, you are responsible and punishable by the state. However, you are not limited to just following the laws, you limited by your own will power and desire to make your dreams come true.

Humans have this amazing ability to talk themselves into and out of things. This past month, I stood at the South most point of the United States and there was this famous cliff diving point there. The wind was blowing like nothing I had ever seen and there were people jumping off this fifteen foot cliff into clear blue water. I looked over the edge and thought how I would never have hesitated to jump off as a teenager. That was only fifteen years ago, not all that long in the grand scheme of a lifetime. Both my brother and I said the same thing to our parents who were with us. There were people my age jumping off but I had no desire to do so. Not because I was in fear of the consequences but I just lacked the desire to do it. I know that it would have been exhilarating to do so but I took one look at the latter to climb back up and thought that would have been the real challenge and one I didn’t want to do. So, I took a picture of the jump off point and walked away.

That choice to walk away stuck with me the next few days as I made some choices on whether or not to take a surfing lesson. There was a lot of fear in that choice. Fear of hurting myself, fear of being a total fool on the board, fear of getting bitten by sharks. That last one was likely the most irrational fear of them all. In the end, I put those fears aside because I wanted to try surfing again and I wanted to do it right. I signed up for the lesson and I was able to do an hour of it before my shoulders gave out from exhaustion. It was an exhilarating experience and left me hungry for more. I am glad that I did it and I have no regrets about my choice.

There have been other things that I have tried and failed at that have stopped me from trying them again. Most notably, longboarding. I had one good summer of longboarding and then the next year, I went out for my first time of the year and tore up my hamstring to shreds. It took me years to recover from that injury. While it lead me to yoga, it left me with a great fear of trying to get back onto a longboard ever again.

Fear kept me from trying new things for a long time. By putting aside my fear of trying surfing again, I learned something very important in relation to skateboarding, I was using the wrong foot on the forward part of the board. Once I figure that out, I was no longer scared to try longboarding again and I will likely try it again now that I know what I was doing wrong.

There have been other fears that have put me in a state of static failure due to inaction. Remember what I said about practice and getting better at an instrument. I am fool for failing to practice my love of music. I love playing music, singing, and getting together with others to play and perform music. I love the thrill of performing, the joy of sitting down to create new music, and the challenge of learning to record music. I am the worst at following through with practice. I fear making a fool of myself in front of others during practice. I choke when it comes time to perform alone. I also fear that I am too old. I know that most of these are totally irrational fears that are only in my mind, fear is the mind killer after all (Dune reference, read it if you have not). I can make all of the excuses I want about not having enough time, I am not talented enough, I am too old, I am not good enough but at the end of the day, these are all just excuses to talk myself out of sitting my ass down and getting to work and doing the daily practices.

In my yoga training, we learn that energy goes where energy flows. Meaning, what you put your time and energy into, that’s what you gain out of it. If you don’t practices yoga, you don’t reap the benefits of it. Being an adult, I am responsible for my own time. If I can make time in my life to get myself to work, I can damn well make time to practice the things that I love. I can turn off the TV, put the distraction of the internet away, and just sit down to do the work. What I lack is motivation. As a child and teenager, I had school as the motivator to get better and practice my music but now as an adult, I don’t have any consequences for failing to practice. There is no one to tell me that if I don’t do it, there will be consequences but there is a consequence, it’s call regret.

Fear and regret are the two most terrible feelings that leave you feeling more anxious about your choices. With anxiety disorders on the rise in our society, it’s no wonder we are turning to the escape of the internet as a way to validate our existence. What kind of a legacy can we leave in this world that is more memorable than that of what we leave on the internet? It’s the only place we currently perceive as immortality. I would like to think that is true but after nine years of working in the internet technology industry, I know that nothing lasts forever, not even on the internet. I myself, have been going through my old accounts and removing information that no longer serves me. Facebook has this memories thing and each day, I go through and remove the last eleven years posts from my Facebook account. It’s a tedious task but one that leaves me feeling less bogged down by my mistakes of the past. It leaves me with the question, why not just delete the whole thing and start over? Now that’s a thought!

During my vacation, I spent a great deal of time thinking about what to do next in my life. I kept coming back to that dream of making music and recording. I don’t know if I will never be one of those people who can just pick up and go off and tour while playing music but I can learn to be a better guitarist, a better pianist, a better bassist, and a better songwriter. Those skills don’t require me to travel, they don’t require others to help, they don’t cause me to fear making mistakes in front of others. They won’t cost me any money, I already have all the tools and instruments I need to make significant moves forward. I just need to give myself the time and space to practice. I think that I can be kind enough to myself to do that. I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to learn and enjoy that process of learning.

I will keep you up to date with my movements in this. I don’t know how it will go but if I am able to start writing music again, you will see it shared here.

~Clara D. Munro


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