Today I want to share a bit of personal learning.
I use to be terrified of getting things wrong – so terrified that I spent my time either totally obsessing over every detail of a job (so that it’d be ‘perfect’), or not trying at all (and, that way, failure wasn’t an option). The first resulted in me burning out – often. The latter resulted in no one – myself included – having any idea of what I might be realistically capable of.
This fear of getting things wrong turns out to be something many people struggle with. It seems as if ‘getting something wrong’ has become synonymous with ‘total and complete failure’. Clients often suggest this fear is what is holding them back from making changes in their lives, students say it about assignments and assessments, and (mostly) newly qualified therapists say it in relation to their interactions with clients. I suppose, for the most part, we all have a sense of wanting to ‘do our best’ – but this doesn’t necessarily mean never getting something wrong. In fact, the pressure to ‘do our best’ may very well be exactly what is holding us back from actually doing our best.
Rather than thinking about how you might get something ‘wrong’, instead think about it as a learning opportunity.
The word ‘opportunity’ is full of potential. The statement ‘getting something wrong’, on the other hand, is wrapped with negative connotations. When you make this simple change in language, you can change your entire attitude towards life.
Let me give you an example of what this might mean in practice. When you next hear yourself say, in fear, some variation of “I don’t think I can do that”, you can instead ask yourself “What could I learn by trying?”
Do you see what a difference that attitude change makes?
When our belief is that we must succeed at everything, we set ourselves up for failure. When we set out to try things without expectation, we produce opportunities. Sometimes those opportunities will create success; sometimes those opportunities will create learning (in my eyes, that is still success).
Take this blog as an example – when I started it, I had no idea if anyone would read it. Instead I looked upon it as a trial, as a way to build my writing skills, and as a form of professional development. There was no pressure, no end goal or achievement – simply an opportunity. Within 18 months I was a finalist at the UK Blog Awards.
Perhaps that example itself is ‘too positive’, so let’s try a second example: one in which I ‘fail’.
One September I enrolled on a Masters programme in Criminology…and then dropped out after 3 months. I was offered a place on the programme without really knowing at that time where my life was going. I started to study and realised that, although I enjoyed the topic, it wasn’t really what I wanted to spend my life doing. Dropping out of a course of study is generally perceived as ‘failing’ – but instead what I took from it was the opportunity to reassess what I DID want to do – and that’s when I found Counselling!. It also gave me some belief in my academic ability. A well spent 3 months if you ask me! It was a successful failure, but successful only because of my chosen attitude.
This is an easy mental trick to start to utilise. It is one that I suggest to clients and students all the time. Why don’t you think of something you are holding back from doing (“I’m scared to do this thing that I might fail at”), change the language and then post about it in the comments section below.
Want to start couple’s therapy training? Want to go back to university? Maybe you want to start writing a blog?
This blog post is offering you an opportunity – take it!