Fear of Failure or Potential for Greatness?

Potential for Greatness or Fear of Failure?

This was a big week for the Schmitt family. My daughter, Allison, who began taking horseback riding lessons in September, moved off the lunge line and to full control of the reigns. (Note for those with less equine knowledge: up until now, her teacher had the horse on a twenty-foot rope when Allison rode—a safety net of sorts). In this first “free reign” lesson (pun intended), she executed flawlessly.

Remembering that animals, especially horses, can “smell fear,” I asked Allison if she had been scared for this big jump. She told me no; she knew this to be the first big step and that she was ready to do it. It’s no coincidence that her absence of fear played a huge role in her success.

Allison’s story is not unique. There is a lesson that can be applied each time we take a new step, speak up boldly in a meeting, or otherwise approach “uncharted waters.”

I remember a mentor once telling me that people are primarily motivated by fear of failure OR potential for greatness. Fear of failure can be a great motivator, but it can only get you so far. Potential for greatness knows no limits. Allison approached free reigns with the confidence that she could succeed, rather than letting the fear of the “what if’s” enter her mind.

I think about this within the context of presentations that I have conducted over the years and the difference that it makes. Many times, I would think about things like “what if I forget what I was going to say?” or “what if they don’t laugh at my joke?”  Now true, major disaster never ensued in these cases.  However, once I could let that all go and focus on what I wanted the customer to think and feel rather than what I was going to say, it made a HUGE difference. A huge difference in my energy, in the audience’s level of engagement, and in the smiles and nods.

Failures are episodic. We fall, we get back up, we move on. Greatness is an aspiration. The potential for greatness is ongoing and sustainable. And it’s a much better place to live.   

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