When I was younger I wanted to be a physiotherapist. Actually, before that I wanted to be a comic book artist, and before that I wanted to be an animal trainer (come on, you KNOW that would be awesome). But in late high school I started thinking seriously about a career, and physio was what I wanted.
I was serious about it too. In grade 12 I volunteered at a physio clinic in order to better understand what was involved, and as I saw it in action I knew it was something I would not only enjoy, but would also be good at.
So off I went to university, and in my first year I took all the prerequisites for Physiotherapy. To get into Physio you need to apply to the faculty, and due to a limited number of spots available every year there was an interview process to get in. I was confident I had a shot if I could get to the interview stage; but only the applicants with the top marks received interviews.
My marks were good, but not good enough. And I tried for two years before coming to accept maybe physio wasn’t going to happen for me.
One day I was talking to someone about it, and they suggested I apply at different schools (out of town) as I would have a much better chance to get in. That idea had never occurred to me, but even after hearing about it I never even tried. I DID want to get into physio, but I was also an 18-19 year old kid who had never been away from home. The reality was, I didn’t even consider trying to get into school somewhere else. That wasn’t an option to me at the time.
Although I didn’t see it, my fear of being away from home, my friends and my family was greater than my desire to get into Physiotherapy school.
And so I didn’t even try.
I didn’t think of it as fear, but at some level that’s what it was. I wanted something – I really did. But I didn’t want it enough to make the take a chance, and to do what needed to be done to pursue that dream.
In life, we are often ruled by our fears. We fear failure, and we fear rejection. And these fears often end up shaping our behaviors and decisions.
Fear of Failure
When we fear failure, there are a few different ways it can manifest.
The most obvious one is removing ourselves from a situation, and not even trying. When you don’t even try, it may be because you’ve convinced yourself in advance that you were going to fail – so why bother when you know how it will end up.
Not trying may also be so you can convince yourself you didn’t fail. I’m sure we’ve all seen and heard people say something like “I would have done X, if not for Y”. Things like I would have been a professional musician if not for my mom and dad needing my help, or I would have been a doctor if I didn’t have kids, or any number of things.
When you don’t try it’s easy to lie to yourself and tell yourself these things.
Maybe it’s true and you would have been X; then again, maybe not.
You’ll never know.
The “what if” game is a wasted exercise, because no matter what you think may have happened – it didn’t. You made the choices you made. And life worked out the way it worked out.
Sometimes people do put in some effort, but fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They don’t believe they can succeed, so they sabotage themselves by putting in minimal effort.
Then, when things don’t work out they tell themselves “see, I knew it wasn’t going to work out.” Not accepting that the way they approached it was a significant contributor to how things ended up.
When this happens, one of the lies people tell themselves is if it didn’t work out it wasn’t meant to be.
Meant to be.
To me that’s a cop out. “It wasn’t meant to be” turns us into victims, and absolves us of any responsibility for the course of our life.
Things work out sometimes, and other times they don’t. But if it’s all about “meant to be” then why are we here? “Meant to be” turns us into nothing more than observers, it means we are passive participants in our own lives; and I can’t accept that.
Rather, I think life presents us with opportunities, and it’s up to us to determine what we want to do them.
Sometimes we pass those opportunities by, maybe because we are scared we will fail or we feel we aren’t ready.
Life doesn’t care if we’re scared – it doesn’t care if we think we’re ready. Opportunities arise, and we need to decide what to do with them.
Sometimes we embrace those opportunities and give them our all. And sometimes we still fail.
When that happens it can hurt like hell. But if it’s something that mattered to us and something we believed in, at least we know that we’ve tried.
Fear of Rejection
I’ve written a lot about authenticity in relationships, and about how important it is to just “be yourself”, whoever that is. And I DO believe that being authentic and vulnerable in a relationship is key to both happiness and long term success.
But one thing I tend to gloss over when writing about authenticity is how hard that is to do sometimes.
See, we all have egos and want to be liked and accepted. And rejection hurts.
Fear of rejection can lead us to hide parts of ourselves, or even to pretend to be something we are not.
We probably all do this to a degree, because we want to impress and we want to be accepted. And in the early days of a relationship it’s somewhat understandable.
It’s a paradox, where we need to feel accepted in order to feel emotionally safe with the other person. At the same time, we need to be vulnerable and let our partners in in order to feel accepted and safe.
So usually in the early days it can be a gradual process of sharing and revealing ourselves. Ultimately we need to let the other person in though, as much as we can.
Similar to how not trying out of fear of failure can CAUSE us to fail, holding back out of fear of rejection will limit the closeness in our relationships and ensure we will never be accepted for who we are. After all, our partner can’t ever fully accept us if we won’t let them truly see us.
When that happens, that’s not a failure of the relationship. That’s a failure within ourselves. Because often, when a fear of rejection is causing us to hold back (or try to be someone we’re not), it’s because we have not accepted ourselves.
Accepting ourselves can be very, very hard.
We all have damage.
We all have insecurities.
We’ve all been hurt.
When that happens it’s very easy to build walls around ourselves in order to “protect” ourselves from further hurt. It doesn’t work though, because our fears just hold us back from the life we really want.
Facing our fears is hard.
Letting go is hard.
Embracing life and opportunities is hard.
And being vulnerable and authentic is hard.
Each of these things comes at a cost, but the cost of not doing so is even higher.
We all have fears, of failure and of rejection. You have them, and I have them. And we all need to address them in the way that seems right for us.
For me, I don’t want to let fear hold me back. When life presents me with opportunities, I don’t want my fears to cause me to pass them by. If it’s something I believe in, I want to embrace it. I want to be the authentic me, and take a chance.
I may be hurt.
I may fail.
But whether I succeed or fail at something, for the things that matter I want to be able to face the mirror at the end of the day and tell myself I gave it my all.