My earliest memory is of failing. But it's one of the happiest I know.
Standing on the beach, no more than a few feet tall and with my parents as bookends, I took a few eager but unsteady steps into the shore break. Enchanted by the moving water, I watched a few inches of salt and sea foam cling to my ankles. While it was a new feeling, it was comforting in a way. But when the tide began to pull back into the ocean, the fast-moving water swept around my feet, taking the sand out from under my toes and creating the illusion that the ground was moving at breakneck speed. Losing my balance, I fell sideways to the wet sandy shore as the tide continued to roll in and out.
Even though this story is a textbook example of what a simple failure looks like, my memories of that moment were not of negativity or fear. Looking back, it's a happy moment of curiosity. It was okay that I didn't know what happened exactly. It was okay that, in my own way, I failed. As a child, I didn't have any other expectations than that I would continue learning about this wide, wild world.
As I got older, I learned to stand. The world told me that stumbling or falling was bad, that there are right and wrong ways to do something. And in listening to these cues, I learned to fear missteps. I adapted to walk like others do, and I did anything I could to avoid falling out of line. I forgot about the small child who once laughed after so boldly failing that day at the beach, choosing to be in wonder instead of fear. Over time I even stopped dreaming, because my dreams led me to the same places I already knew. It was a safe existence overall, but I always knew at my core it was also one of mediocrity.
As an adult, I accept cognitively that failure is inevitable, and that the more risks I take-- the more dreams I craft and pursue-- the more mistakes I'll encounter. But that doesn't do much to take the sting out of errors, or the embarrassment out of being wrong. So when I make a mistake, I try to gently remind myself that the negativity I associate with failing is learned. The wonder and curiosity, on the other hand, is something I've had in me all along.
So the next time you enter into something unknown, consider this: what it instead of placing judgment on a less than perfect outcome, you chose to ask with earnest curiosity what happened and why? What if you simply accepted that there will always be more to learn in this world and it's impossible to always get it right? What if you embraced that fact and took mistakes in with a sense of wonder? What if you let go of expectations when trying something new?
It's not easy, no. But remember that it's not unnatural. Your fear of failure is learned. Your wonder and curiosity in the face of it is not.
photos by Shane Eubank