My friend and I took my 6-year-old daughter to this crazy tree-climbing adventure: a place where they string logs, tubes and wires to the branches of tall trees. The result is a leaf-top playground high above the ground. You climb up, clip yourself to a safety line and clamber around like a monkey.
Full of bravado, my daughter whipped through the courses like nobody’s business, swinging from ropes, scampering over logs and asking for more every step of the way.
Eventually we reached a tougher-level course with the longest zip-line EVER, and my friend went first to lead the way, with my daughter sandwiched between us. The ladder to the first platform was pretty steep, though, and climbing it shook my daughter’s resolve. (It damn well just about shook mine too!)
Suddenly my daughter decided this wasn’t so easy or fun anymore – this was scary. Worse, all the people in the lineup below were staring up at her. She felt exposed and uncertain.
I asked if she wanted to turn around, but in a tiny, unsure voice, she replied no. She wanted to keep going. And my daughter slowly slid forward on the next phase of the course, a long wire stretched between trees.
Her legs were wobbly. And I could hear her even wobblier voice whisper:
“I can do this. I can do this.”
Below us, a man in the waiting line began whining to his wife rather loudly. He didn’t want to do this course. He really didn’t feel comfortable. The course was too high. It looked hard. He couldn’t make it. It was scary. Could they just skip it and try another course instead?
The next thing I know, my friend called out loudly. “Hey buddy.” The man looked up and my friend pointed a finger at my daughter inching along the wire.
Then he jabbed it at the guy.
“She’s 6,” he snorted. “WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?”
When we were young, fear of failure took a back seat to pride of accomplishment and thrill of adventure. But somewhere along the way as we grew older, the scales tipped.
Now adventure sits in the back seat. Fear’s at the wheel, steering us to the center of the road so we avoid all the rough edges.
How did that happen?
It happened the day we got hurt. The moment we were embarrassed. The time we got yelled at or rejected or left out. The instant our brains said, “Whoa – that was a seriously not-fun experience. Let’s not do that again.”
Then our brain starts to filters every second of our lives, scanning for any possible signals that this moment might be similar to “that time when Something Bad happened”. Believe me, your brain works very hard to make sure Something Bad never happens again.
It gives you fears.
Fear of failure. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of not being good enough. Fear that people will laugh.
Your brain reinforces your fears and hounds you with terrible images. Your imagination blows the situation out of proportion until you’re completely sure you can’t do this THING at all.
You know, like doing a little bit of marketing or answering that job ad. Frightening stuff, that.
Fear is designed to keep you safe instead of letting you risk being hurt. Again. But fear also freezes your potential in place, preventing you from learning, from maturing, from growing.
From discovering what you can actually accomplish in life.
You’re not a child anymore. You’ve learned resilience, you’ve gained knowledge, and you know how to weather life’s storms. Give yourself some credit.
You can definitely try that new marketing strategy or publish that post or call that company or finally launch that website (even if it’s not perfect yet).
Nothing will kill you. Something Bad will not happen.
What will happen is that you’ll learn valuable knowledge, like how to do better the next time or that this new tactic works better than the last you tried.
If you don’t try it, you’ll just sit around, doing the same thing as always. Stagnant.
I dare you to prove me wrong. Take that one thing you’ve been nervous about doing, and just do it. Show your brain you can handle this, thank you very much. You’re a grownup now, with plenty of intelligence and wisdom on your side.
You may be nervous and scared and not-at-all confident, but that’s okay. You can handle this.
And when you start to think you can’t, think about this:
My daughter was 6. What’s your excuse?