It’s May! May is a big month for our family. It’s filled with celebrations, the end of the school year (which brings its own brand of chaos) and, as we close it out, the beginning of summer! May has been my favorite month for as long as I can remember. It also happens to contain my birthday! (And my son’s who was rudely born 2 days before my birthday so that from here on out I have to share.) This May also marks a milestone as 10 days in, I will turn 40 this year.
I’ve had mixed feelings about this particular birthday. On the one hand, 40 is the new 25, right? RIGHT?! On the other hand, I tweaked my back by sneezing the other day. So…mixed bag.
I suppose when you turn 40 you are supposed to wax eloquently about all of the wisdom your life experience has gleaned you thus far. I don’t have any wisdom except maybe Orange Theory, therapy and whiskey but that’s for another post. I am sad to say I think I might fit that old cliche of turning 40. The one where you decide you don’t actually care that much about what others think of you and you start doing bizarre stuff like buying sports cars or skydiving or getting bangs. I haven’t actually done any of those things…yet… but I do find myself slowly being released from the opinions or expectations of others.
For me turning 40 this year has been about confronting the monsters that live under my bed. The ones only I can see but I swear they exist and they are far more terrifying at night than they are at noon when I am making the bed. I’m dragging them out in to the light one by one and observing how pale and sickly they look when the sun is out, reminding myself of their true state when they start drooling under the bed as the sun goes down. One monster I have decided to confront with all the fervor and willpower I possess is my fear of failure.
A fear of failure is not a particularly unique or even creative fear. I would wager to say most people experience some version of it in their lifetime. But for me it has been a constant frenemy since as long as I can remember. It’s prevented me from trying new things. It has held me back from truly connecting with people I love. And it has even found a way to taint success when it morphs into its treacherous cousin, imposter syndrome.
But this year I decided to tackle that fear. I’m a big goal setter. I know I have often bored you in the past with my passion for New Year’s resolutions. But even within that goal setting, the fear of failure is a constant companion. I carefully craft goals or resolutions I am confident I can meet. Because not meeting them is simply not an option. When Reagan Perkins says she will do something, you can pretty much take that to the bank. Even if it means I am hobbling over the finish line, broken, bleeding and worse for the wear, that goal will be met dangit!
This year I chose goals that scare me because I am legitimately not sure I can do meet them. Writing here once a month is one of them. I think I have 12 months of entertaining and engaging ideas from which to write about. I think I have the time to dedicate to them. I think I will love it and feel reenergized by it. But I might not. I might peter out around July and then the real work will begin: permission to fail.
I have found to sit with this fear means sometimes I have to start with what looks like small potatoes to other people, not privy to the dark corners of my perfectionist mind. While we were on Spring Break a few months ago, for example, I decided I wanted to hike the 3 miles down the massive mountain our cabin was perched upon and then trudge back up. When the time came, my other cabin mates recognized just how exhausting and pointless that 6 mile saunter would be and so I found myself setting out to go over the hill by myself.
As I left and my friend called out “Don’t get eaten by a bear!” and my husband echoed with “Just call me if you get tired and I’ll come pick you up in the car!” I realized I would suffer the fate of being eaten by a bear ten times over than face the humiliation of having to be picked up in a car. As I lumbered my way down the mountain (which PS: had a surprising amount of UPHILL moments for being the way down) I pondered that stubbornness inside of me, that fear of failure. Along the way I stopped a few times, winded, calves burning and realizing the whole bear scenario did feel a little risky when you are in the intense quiet of a mountain trail and I contemplated sending up the magic rescue flare held within the touchscreen of my iPhone. I thought about what it would feel like to hear the crunch of the tires approaching. And to climb into the mighty machine that would make mince meat of the path my legs were struggling with.
And even though I never sent up that flare, I did in fact make it 3 miles down and 3 miles back up, I made peace with the fact that failure was most definitely an option and not as much a failure as I had thought when I set the goal. Because sometimes dragging the monster out from under the bed looks like sitting down on the floor with it and becoming curious. Where did you come from? Why do you snarl and growl and gnash your teeth at me when I get too close? What if you aren’t a demon or a puppy dog but actually just a version of myself that desperately needs to feel good enough and accepted no matter what? What if I let you catch up to me and roar in my face? I think your bark might be stronger than your bite and I think you might be longing to be seen and loved. With each step on the mountain and swig from my water bottle, I pulled the monster a little farther out.
This is a silly-ish example. And perhaps one might argue I would have truly shouted down the beast if I had sent up the flare and hitched a ride back up over the hill. But I know for me, the victory was in realizing the flare was an option and one that defined my worth in no way whatsoever. It was just a ride up a very long hill.
I just finished watching a TV show based on a woman who let her fear of failure swindle an entire industry and put thousands of lives in jeopardy. She had this obnoxious quote she put all over her office that said “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” I suppose it was meant to inspire and shout down her monsters. But every time it popped up in the show, I found myself thinking “What would I do if I knew I could fail?” These days I am much more interested in the answers to that question.