The freedom to fail

I’ve been thinking about vulnerability lately.

I suspect that’s because this blog just passed one million views, I’m working with my editor on my book and recently did a reading of a chapter for an audience of about 100 people. All this is wonderful and I’m so grateful but it also kind of feels like standing naked in front of a football stadium.

Therefore, I’ve been thinking about what it means to put yourself out there, letting yourself be seen for the truth of who you are, and standing courageously to take whatever comes – praise, criticism or a sarcastic slow-clap of indifference.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds scary as hell to me.

I doubt I’m alone with this. I see people struggling with perfectionism and fear of failing all the time.

Not wanting to ask for the raise or promotion at work.

Not wanting to try a new yoga class because other people might be more flexible.

Not wanting to bring up the difficult conversation that needs to be discussed.

So, what do we do about it? It’s easy to look at someone else and tell them to go for it and no one at yoga cares what you look like and communication is important. But how do we do that for ourselves when we are terrified to fail at our jobs, fail with our friends, fail at being perfect?

I don’t know the answer, but I wonder if there isn’t peace and beauty to be found in the ordinary. In America, we are obsessed with the extraordinary. We think we need to be famous, or be in the top 1% of whatever, or do something that no one else has ever accomplished.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t tend to expect that from anyone other than ourselves. It is possible to let go and enjoy our imperfection. Because in our imperfection, we find our individuality, our spirit, our joy. The people I love and respect most are the ones who embrace their beautifully flawed human-ness.

I had this thought recently:

When I’d rather fail than quit, everything becomes possible.

I’ve been held back by being afraid to fail for too long.

What if people think I’m a terrible writer?

What if I really am as washed up and irrelevant as anonymous HuffPo commenters say?

What if I make spelling mistakes in my blog posts?

I’m tired of living in fear that I might fail or look stupid or fall on my face.

I might.

But on the other hand — I might not.

(Okay, when it comes to spelling in blog posts, I definitely will make mistakes, but luckily you readers are kind enough to gently point those out without too much ridicule.)

The point is that I might be able to reach people and connect and make some sort of a difference somehow – and that possibility is too valuable to give up just because I’m feeling like a scaredy cat. It seems that lots of people have an opinion about my life. I just need to remember that my opinion counts, too. In fact, it counts most.

So when I saw this sign while I was out for a walk, it totally stopped me in my tracks.

free

What would I do if I were free from worry and fear and self-doubt? What would I do if I stopped being so concerned about seeming perfect? What would I do if I had faith that I was fully capable of picking myself up even if I did fall on my face?

Who knows?

But it just might be fun.

(For more on perfectionism and vulnerability – check out the staggeringly insightful Brené Brown.)

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77 thoughts on “The freedom to fail

  1. So inspiring, Lisa!!! Absolutely loved this post. I’ve thought about this so very many times myself. Oh, not that I’m anywhere near perfectionism or anything like that, however the fear of failing or the fear of someone seeing that maybe I’m NOT always the happy, upbeat, optimist that I appear to be, has a hold or ‘lock’ on me, if you will. And yes, so what if I show my ‘other,’ maybe weaker side, if I fall, or if they don’t like what they see, I guess they weren’t really friends to begin with. But I can pick myself up, too, and get right back to being me, no matter who that is!!! As long as I’m happy, and I feel good!!

    Thanks Lisa!! Keep up the great writing! I thoroughly enjoy it!

    Best regards,

    Lynn

    Lynn M. Pinner
    Executive Secretary
    Environmental Health & Safety Dept.
    University of North Florida
    Bldg. 6, Rm. 1309
    904-620-2021

  2. Hi Lisa!
    I’m more or less your age and I’ve spent my whole life thinking that I had to be perfect, or at least better than anyone else, be it at school, at work, at choir rehearsals… I’ve failed to make friends or even meet people because I was so scared that I would do or say something stupid that I didn’t even want to talk! Thanks to therapy I have realised that what causes my panic attacks is my bloody perfectionism. Now I’m working to change that 🙂
    I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and I had to read every entry, you’re an excellent writer!
    Greetings from Argentina.
    Silvina

    • That’s so nice – thank you! Yes, I have done the same thing with potential friends, and my panic attacks are somewhat related as well. It’s so helpful to know what our triggers are! Thanks so much for reading – I’m thrilled you are enjoying the blog.

  3. I recently discovered John Wooden and his definition of success it really resonated with me “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did the best of which you are capable”

  4. Hello Lisa, I do understand about trying to be perfect and not having everything like you want it. All my life I have tried my best to make things good, the way I want it. Especially at my jobs or even trying to teach my kids about something. NEVER have I allowed myself to make a mistake. I have always been very critical of things that I do. You can make a mistake, but NOT me. It has taken me a very long time ( I am now 63 yrs old ) To lighten up on myself. I know that I am not perfect and that I will make mistakes. It takes a lot of pressure off of daily living. Although I am still kind of a perfectionist, I have learned to accept the fact that I am not going to get it right all the time. Fail sometimes is very good. It takes the pressure off. If you can learn to laugh at yourself and your mistakes….all will be better.
    I love your blogs and your thinking. keep up the good work…….an relax.

    • I agree – it would be such a better world if we all just learned to laugh at ourselves. I’m slowly getting better at it. 🙂

  5. Thanks for this, Lisa. Perfectionism is a bugger. That and comparison. I confess I’ve had comparative thoughts with you ~ I mean, a million views. I think Theodore Roosevelt said “comparison is the thief of joy” and I would add to that, the thief of energy. The willingness to show up, really show up, and trust is where it’s at. On the mat, on the dance floor, on the blog, on the screen. Thank you again.

    • Well, you should know that I will NEVER dance as gracefully as you, nor will I ever be able to get into savasana as fast – so it all evens out, my friend. You are perfectly, exquisitely YOU. xoxo

  6. For if it uses as something you. I don’t admire you for having been a great actress, not for that you are going to be a great writer, not for being famous… I admire you because you are Lisa Jakub. Sincere, sensitive, honest, fearful, doubtful… because you are a wonderful human.
    I know I’m not alone in thinking this, so you have all the qualities in order that the failure (what the others think that it is a failure) is not a possibility in your life,
    Thanks for writing.

  7. My favourite quote is from The Goo Goo Dolls: “And I don’t want the world to see me, cause I don’t think that they’d understand. When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.”
    I was so afraid of failure for the better part of my first thirty years, and then I entered my thirties and I decided I wasn’t going to hide anymore because I was afraid of rejection. This post is right on the mark for me and my life. Thanks.
    And it’s fine to have a spelling mistake here and there. It’s a blog post and blog posts are supposed to be written in the moment and without lots of prior thought and planning. Things happen and that’s what makes it raw and real. Save the endless amounts of editing for your book. You seem to reach and touch people here. Nice to hear what someone is thinking, someone who I saw in a movie in my childhood, but who is just a regular person and with all the same insecurities and fears. You are human and writing can help with the learning curve. 🙂
    Greetings from Canada.

    • I just sang those lines really loudly (and really badly). I don’t think I’ve ever REALLY listened to them. Fabulous. Who knew the Goo Goo Dolls were Buddhist Poets?? Thanks so much for reading.

  8. I think society places too much value on “succeed succeed succeed.” So many people have been fearless in the face of failure, from Thomas Edison to Albert Einstein, and have emerged victorious. If being free to fail was good enough for them, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

  9. Hi Lisa

    As a fellow writer, I salute you! Embracing vulnerability is the sure way to freedom. Vulnerability is power. I suspect many of our troubles would go away if we were present in our bodies (without which vulnerability is impossible) and stopped letting others’ opinions count more than our own. I like to remind myself of this quote from Roosevelt:

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    Micheila

    • Yes! That quote always brings me to tears – I actually used it here – http://wp.me/p3dZAE-3U . And I totally agree… I think artists in general need to get particularly comfortable with vulnerability. Thanks so much for your comment!

  10. I have never done this, but I’m going to reblog this article on my blog. It’s that good. It states exactly what I wish to say about failure. I have a fear of failure, so I do exactly what you stated, but I am learning now to reach for my goals anyway…despite what others think.
    Loved it when you said this: “It is possible to let go and enjoy our imperfection. Because in our imperfection, we find our individuality, our spirit, our joy. The people I love and respect most are the ones who embrace their beautifully flawed human-ness.”
    Someone once said (and I will probably misquote this) “Learning to love oneself is a life-long love affair.” Learning to accept and love ourselves in spite of (or maybe with) our imperfections isn’t easy, but it’s a step in the right direction. Those who care about us most seem to accept us in our imperfections. I make mistakes because I am human…but learning and growing is one of the greatest purposes of our lives. Thank you Lisa!

  11. Reblogged this on Wallflower Blossoming and commented:
    I have never reblogged someone else’s article on my own blog, but this one was worthy of notice. As I have struggled with my own failures and my fear of failure, I have denied myself opportunities that I could already be enjoying in this life. But that is part of the learning process and a lesson I can finally say I’m learning well.

  12. Loved this entry Lisa. Thanks for reminding me that we are, many of us, in this perfection seeking world together and need to be reminded of a better way. Again, thanks. Michell

  13. Reblogged this on Scattered Spools and commented:
    I haven’t written the post that was in my mind when I woke up this morning, because I had to round up three runaway horses. I’m sharing something I just read on Lisa Jakub’s blog that is superb. Thanks Lisa.

  14. You do reach people and you do connect and, not that you need my affirmation, but you do make some sort of a difference somehow. Just by putting your writing out there you do so, we can hardly ask for anthing more. Wonderful post.

  15. Thank you, this is just what I needed! Having recently finished my first book, I have been slowly beginning to look for a publisher. I have been reluctant because I have been afraid of failure (it IS my first book) but this post has given me the courage and the okay feeling that no matter what, I just need to get it published 🙂

    • I think if you check the dictionary under “Vulnerability” it details the publishing industry. It’s brutal, but so totally worth it. And you realize just how damn strong you are. 🙂 Best of luck to you!

  16. What a true and to the point post. Fear of failure is definitely something that has held me back in the past. Now that I am older I can see through that fear. I don’t regret the things from my past that I should have acted on, but I do envy those younger folks that come to this realization without having to wait as long as I did. Great post!

  17. I’ve always said and believed that things you need to see or hear come to you in the most unsuspecting ways right when you need them. And today it was you and your story. I am learning now that after years well actually my whole life of trying to prove mostly to my own family that I am good enough.I have decided that at age 55 I am good enough and I need to live for me . I need to surround myself with positive energies and I do have a choice as to who and how I spend my time on this earth .there will always be haters and ppl who judge but I know who I am and I’m good with that .thx.Keep on writing you never know who you touch today.

  18. Dear Lisa, its absolutely wonderful. I do too feel the same sometimes. Thank you so much I needed to read this. Wishing you all the best. My best regards from Lebanon!

  19. Speaking as a writer who has let slip several embarrassing typos into completed manuscripts, I can say this with absolute authority: life goes on. And eventually they become cute and amusing. Like crayon drawings or singing out of key on home videos.

    • I love that idea. So maybe I can get over the typo in something I tweeted yesterday… and let me also say this – thank god for editors.

  20. To be happy doing what you like is a lot harder than one thinks. After 43 years on this great earth and through trials and tribulations I have come to one conclusion. If you try to be like everyone else you will never be happy. Let me give you an example. My wife worries about the weeds in the back yard the neighbors don’t have them. Well I think I would rather spend the time playing baseball with my son or taking my daughters on a walk to get an Icee. In the end, all we will have is our family. The weeds and those who point them out will always be there. Lisa I am happy I ran across your blog and glad to see the great woman you turned into from that long time ago in Studio City.

  21. Darling girl, this broke me open last night when I read it.
    I’m working so hard on being vulnerable, being me, being open to everything, but gosh it’s so hard. I too love Brené Brown, her ‘I thought it was me’ book hasn’t moved off my bedside since I brought it months ago. In the past year, I’ve started running, and now can pound out 5km two or three times a week, (I would never say with ease), but crossing the line of my first 10km race was life affirming. I’m restarting Bikram Yoga after a three year break tonight, I’m worried I won’t remember what I’m doing, but in a couple of weeks, it’ll feel normal again.
    I wish we didn’t have to be ‘on’ all the time, smiling and sparkling away in our lives instead of reaching out for help when we need it, a smile covers up so many things. Everything is difficult when we first start doing it, it takes time, effort and practice to be accomplished at anything. My son walked late, mainly because it was too slow for him to get around compared to speed of his crawling, but we still encouraged him every time he fell over. We nurture and guide our children to keep going, keep trying. When do we stop nurturing adults?

    • Oh I loved this whole comment. Thank you. When do we stop nurturing? And how can we remember to nurture ourselves? Bikram is certainly one way – I’ve been practicing for more than 5 years now and I find it helps me with all this stuff tremendously. (In case you want some yoga reading – http://www.justherejustnow.com/)
      Hope you enjoyed class, and thank you so much for reading the blog.

  22. That was a beautifully written and very insightful post. I seem to swing between trying to be better all the time or just not caring. Not having success is a difficult pill to swallow. I think there is definitely a cultural root in how big of an epidemic this is, but it is up to us individuals to make the changes and do what we can to positively influence changes in the culture. Thank you, this post came at a great time when the semester is just getting underway and it’s all too easy to compare myself against peers.

    • Thanks! I’m so glad you found it useful. I hope your semester is fun and “successful” — however you choose to define that!

  23. Firstly, congratulations on 1m views!
    Thank you for being so open with us and letting us in on what’s in your head. I’ve just read both this and your earlier anxiety post together, and you’ve made me feel a little less like it’s just me. And that’s the beauty of your writing really.

  24. I know from personal experiences that the fear of failing has stop me from doing things and missing out on friendships I could have made. I’m slowly starting to understand that trying to be perfect is what society wants but I’m realizing that it doesn’t bring a true sense of happiness. More like a false sense of fitting into a mold. Thank you for your blog post and your writing because your words are honest and from the heart.

  25. Kristofferson was probably right when he wrote “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” because knowing you have something to lose initiates fear when you take up a challenge and yet without the courage to lay it out there it is impossible to accomplish what is worthwhile. There are no safe bets in life.

    And you are right about the ordinary being a worthy pursuit. I have more respect for the worker who put in long hours to make sure their kids had a decent life or the NGO who goes unsung in helping the homeless, hungry and diseased than the tycoon in the 1%. The neighbor who lends a helping hand at the right time has more of a positive impact on the world than those aspiring to be extraordinary.

    Hang in there with the writing. You’re going to be fine.

  26. My Dad always recites a Japanese saying: “Next time, I will learn to fail better” It is only then we truly learn from our mistakes and gain knowledge. Either that or he was trying to make me feel better about my maths results at school. 🙂

  27. I lived in the shadow of failure for a long time Lisa. Failure to believe in myself; to accept that someone out there would care about me enough to marry me; failure to notice that most people could see beyond my face. In the end you realise you are in control of your own destiny and sometimes it’s ok to fail. Learning from our failures is what makes us stronger. I am the better for the experiences even if I didn’t realise it at the time.

  28. Im catching up on your writings with great interest. Ive never been a masive reader infact the only book ive read is a bio on a motorcycle race called maria costello. I cant be done with these big name books . What i read in yours is what mist people go thru in life but all take a differnt path to get there.
    I find you only learn in life by making mistakes , if you dont fall over how will you ever know how to pick yourself up.
    Maybe one day i will also put my life in words to explain the whys and what ifs of life. Do not dwell on past choices it can tear some people apart but use lifes experiences to make you stonger.
    Maz

  29. This is so relatable. I really enjoy your honesty and vulnerability. I find comfort in reading the same thoughts that I have from someone my age. So thank you.

  30. Ms. Lisa, this is a wonderful post! So glad I came across it! I too am a writer and am always interested in the thoughts and feelings of other writers. The fear of failing is a huge issue, particularly for writers and artists I feel, especially since we put ourselves in very vulnerable positions, where we bare our hearts, our scars and our souls. There’s something very gusty and brave and honest about that. I thank you for sharing your thoughts on the freedom to fail! Thank you for being honest and brave and gutsy with us here! I look forward to hearing more from you!

  31. I see you have a husband and you are glowing, sorry haven`t kept up with you (because I guess been too busy with life) so lovely lady keep smiling and glowing so wonderful to see ,as you can see you are really loved by so many. Kisses to you and all your ambitions, my daughter is your age so I can relate very well with you.

    She just had the most wonderful Baby and it is THE JOY OF LIFE. Stay strong, happy, and really sweet. Sheila

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