So I was telling a friend today about yesterday’s drama in the comments with “Anna” and her whole Eeyore attitude of “You are so going to fail, you’ll never make any difference, you may as well just give up now.” and we got talking about fear of failure and whether or not it is a useful emotion to hold.
For my whole life, I’ve been told not to be too ambitious. Not to get my hopes up too high. Not to have unrealistic expectations. Nobody important will ever listen to you. You can’t change things, you may as well just work out the best way to live with it. You’ll only regret it when it doesn’t go the way you want it to.
On Monday, I turn 38. Not particularly old, not particularly young. Though I know it will sound positively ancient to some of you! When I think back to the things I’ve regretted across my life, not once has it ever been something that I’ve had a go at, and not succeeded. I’ve failed plenty of times in my life at lots of different things, but I have never regretted a single one of those. The things I have regretted, are the times when I’ve been too scared to have a go. All those moments that I just missed because of fear of failure; the guy I fell in love with at 19 that I never told how I felt (and found out years later that he felt the same way, but it was now too late!), the job I never went for because I was scared I wasn’t qualified for (which someone far less qualified than I was got), the dance competition I pulled out of because I was sure I would be laughed out of because of my fatness, the business idea I had but was sure I would have failed at so I didn’t try. Those are the things I regret.
However, when I think of the leaps I’ve taken that haven’t quite happened as I had hoped, I don’t regret any of them. I’ve told people I’ve loved them and been rejected, I’ve had a business that folded, jobs that it turned out I wasn’t suitable for, and so on. I don’t regret those at all, in fact I am proud that I had a go, gave it my best shot and lived through the experience.
When I was 10, I saw an article in my mother’s Women’s Weekly about the comedienne Phyllis Diller, who had a massive postcard collection. The photo was of Phyllis sitting on this huge pile of postcards from all around the world. I told my mother that I wanted to collect postcards like that. “Don’t be silly!” she said “Only famous people could do that, they get them sent by all their fans.” But I decided to start and asked my relatives to send me postcards when they went on holidays. Then when I was a teenager, I got into writing to penpals, and I asked them to send me postcards from their holidays. By the time I was a young adult, everyone knew of my obsession with postcards and would send them to me when they went anywhere. Friends, family, colleagues, penpals, you name it. People would buy vintage ones off eBay for me and give them to me as birthday gifts. Today I have a pile far bigger than the one Phyllis Diller sat on in that photograph in Women’s Weekly and I don’t know what to do with them all!!
When I was 20, a friend of mine asked me “If you had all the money you could need, what would you do?” Straight away I blurted “I’d start a radio station.” (Bear in mind, this was pre-internet so being able to share your favourite music was not as possible as it is today.) His response was “I totally knew you’d say that! Why wait until the highly unlikely happens? Can’t we just do it now?” We got talking about it and thought that perhaps we could look into community radio.
I remember a lot of people told us we couldn’t do it. We were too young. Nobody would want to hear anything from us. There’s no way we could find the money to do it. Only rich or famous people could start radio stations.
But somehow we got in contact with some people from another community radio station, and took a road trip to meet them. They told us how to get started, by holding a community meeting to propose the idea and see who would be interested in volunteering. We did, thanks to a friend of mine who had a venue we could use and a whole bunch of contacts.
At that meeting, the local politician told us that we’d never make it happen, commercial radio was going to come into town and they’d squash us. The local newspaper editor told us we’d never make it happen, nobody would trust their news from a bunch of volunteers on a hack radio station. More than half the room had some reason why we’d never make it happen.
But one local businessman wrote a cheque for $1000, handed it to me and said “It’s all yours kiddo, just say my business name on air at your first broadcast.”
A couple of years later, after we lobbied, ran surveys, begged favours, did radio announcing lessons with another community radio station, drummed up donations and sponsorship, had dozens of fund raising events, and worked really hard that first broadcast happened. It was only a trial broadcast, but I was so proud to announce that first donation from our very first sponsor from that first meeting. A year after that, we got our first temporary license to broadcast for a season. Then we got one for a year. Now, 18 years after my friend Marty asked me that first question about what I’d do with limitless funds, Beau FM is still running. It’s still an amateur community radio station, but it outlasted two commercial radio stations and survived a pretty full on campaign from a local newspaper to shut them down. Marty and I may have both fallen out with the committee, but what we did, from that one kernel of an idea that almost everyone told us that we couldn’t do, is still there.
Ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” He’s absolutely right. Sure, you might fail, but failure is how we learn, how we work our way to success. It might be embarrassing, sure. But there is not a human being who has ever inhabited this earth, or ever will, who has lived their life free of embarrassment, or never tasted failure.
As Thomas Edison once said “I didn’t fail, I just found ten thousand ways that didn’t work.”
We have a choice in life. We can have a go and live with the knowledge that we gave it our best shot, and at least asked the questions and spoke up about something we believe in or are passionate about, or we can just fear failure and expect that nothing we do will ever make a difference. Maybe it won’t, but maybe we’ll pave the way for someone else to make the change we fought so hard for in the first place.
One of my favourite quotes of all time was given to me by my dear friend Ian about 20 years ago. It’s very simple and one I try to live by:
Be realistic. Plan for a miracle.