How to chase dreams and fight the fear of failure

I’ve been doing a lot — and, boy, do I mean a lot — of self-analysis lately. Who am I, where am I going, where do I want to be going, and why am I not there yet? Additionally, when did I start becoming more cynical, more narrow-minded, and less determined but at the same time more rigid?

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I do know that at least I’m making a little progress by asking them and confronting myself. I also know that it’s been almost four years since I upended my life because I was stuck in a rut that I did not like. I was stuck in an increasingly unhappy job with no opportunities to move up, I was stuck in a relationship that was destroying my self-esteem, and then I suffered a stress fracture that dashed all running dreams for the next several months. So I set out to find myself.

Four years later, I’ve both succeeded and failed. For a while, I was much happier. I traveled more (Alaska, Ireland, Colorado, New York, Chicago, Hawaii). I ran more (an ultra-marathon, faster times). I explored my new town. I began to dream again.

But somewhere along the way, I got lost again. Some of it started last October, when another injury sidelined all of my running goals, which had gotten bigger and bolder (qualify for Boston). Some of it started this year, when I tried to follow another dream and was repeatedly shot down, sending my self-esteem plummeting. However, I suspect most of it is because I have lifelong dreams that have gone unfulfilled. They eat at me until I’m convinced I’m not good enough, and that if I try to reach them, I’ll fail.

Some of those dreams I cannot reach on my own, but some of them are all up to me. So, how do I make myself pursue them? Yesterday evening, instead of googling for inspirational quotes, I turned instead to Facebook and asked: “What mantras, quotes, rules or experiences do you use to try to better yourself and chase away the ‘I’m afraid I’ll fail’ demons?” As an example, I gave this quote from George Eliot: “It’s never too late to become who you might have been.” I knew that many of my Facebook friends wouldn’t see the post, due to timing and algorithms that limit which posts people see. But in the 10 hours since, I’ve received a number of great quotes.

A good friend texted her response: “Jump and the net will appear.”

Another friend messaged his response, which he’d seen on a poster that same day: “To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year – but for a lifetime.” The quote was from legendary runner and author Bill Rodgers, and my friend pointed out that it doesn’t just apply to running. This is so true: It’s the big picture of life. If I’ve got these life dreams, each day should prepare me for them, because they won’t suddenly happen immediately.

“Life’s battles don’t always go to the bigger or faster man…but sooner or later, the fellow who wins, is the man who thinks he can.” This was offered by a friend and former colleague, Rick, who is deaf and has faced more than his share of battles. The key there is to think I can do it.

Another former journalist-turned-runner (turned Ironman, which is a whole other level, if you ask me), Theresa, offered this line from a sports journalism professor of hers: “The only way out is through.” Yes, if I want to reach the goals, I have to push through everything standing between me and them.

“I like to tell myself that I’ll definitely fail if I don’t try,” said another writer. I really admire her, because she has worked hard to get to a career she wanted. If she hadn’t tried, she never would have gotten there.

Then there is this Wayne Gretzky quote, offered by an old friend, Dave: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Audrey pointed out that, even if you don’t make that shot, you learn along the way. As another saying goes, practice makes perfect. Similarly, Pam offered this advice: “My dad always has told me that if you fail, pick yourself up and try again. Never give up until you succeed.”

And from another Ironman, Stuart: “You only regret the things you didn’t do.” This resonated, because often I ask myself, when trying to make a decision or do something that’s hard, which option I would regret more. Would I regret trying and not making it, or would I regret never trying at all? That answer is obvious.

Similarly, Brandon offered a line from a Shinedown song: “Long live the day that I decided to fly.” It’s a decision, and I have to truly make that decision before I can go anywhere.

My friend Marc turned it around back at me, with the advice I gave him the day before he ran his first marathon: “One that sticks with me is something a really great friend told me on January 11 of this year. She said there will be a point where I will realize “this is the farthest I’ve ever gone.” And that’s true for everything. It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” He’s right (which I guess means that I was right). I still remember the point when I passed mile 22 of the Tucscon Marathon in December 2008. There, on an Arizona highway, I realized that was the farthest I had even run — and at the same time I realized I was actually going to run a marathon. I did finish that marathon, and then I kept on going to more goals and milestones. The journey continued, and it was a good journey.

And then there was this, from Linda: “Shan’t I be good to thee self, I shan’t be good to another.” She didn’t know it, but that one hit home more than all the rest. I love people, I love helping them and making them happy, and some of my biggest dreams require other people. But I can’t be good for them and help them unless I also do that for myself. That’s actually a realization I reached last week, so Linda’s timing was perfect. I have to be strong enough to stand on my own.

Where does all of this advice go? How do I actually retain it, rather than dumping it all into a blog post and then moving on? Well, one way is through sheer determination, which I’m already working on. I don’t like the way I give up on things I want, just because they’re hard or there are huge obstacles in the way. I fear that I’ll fail, so I stop trying — and that’s no way to live my life.

So I’m going to keep re-reading the quotes offered from friends who have clearly had the strength to keep fighting, and who also took the time to give me some advice. I’m going to try to stand up tall and keep fighting my doubts and insecurity. I’m going to try to be a better, stronger, supportive person to those I care about. And I’m going to tell myself over and over again that I AM good enough to chase my dreams.

After all, as Darleen advised, “If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got.” I want more, so I have to do more.

6 Responses to How to chase dreams and fight the fear of failure

  1. Theresa’s mantra has definitely been one I’ve used during the past six months — can’t go around pain or dodge the tough stuff — you just have to dive in. I’m also a fan of “Onward” and “Cute and indestructible.”

    It’s funny — so much easier to figure out what you don’t want in your life than determine what it is you really, truly want. I thought this question would get easier with age, but it’s gotten more confusing. The fear of failure is greater — like when you’re an adult and you relearn how to ride a bike and you’re more cautious now because you realize you can break bones. I wish I had an answer for this or some kind of good advice, but all I can say is that we are all in this together. And really, I think the best thing we can do is to be kind to one another and help each other through.

  2. Avatar Alex Adame
    Alex Adame says:

    First of all this is a great article and I’m in the same place as I’m writing this comment. Second, I’ll bet you 1,000,000 dollars that Karin told you “jump and the net will appear”. I’ve heard that about a 1,000 times now. There’s a bunch of thing that are happening to me right now that should make it obvious to me to make that change but I keep fighting it and living in that fear. I just need to JUMP!!

  3. You need to add this quote:

    You fail only if you stop writing.
    – Ray Bradbury

    And now it doesn’t matter what else you do in life, you can never stop writing.

  4. Avatar Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I keep thinking of a young girl who sat down to play piano in front of a small town congregation. Several minutes into a perfectly executed piece, she hit one wrong note that none in the audience would likely hear, and, even if they did, they would quickly forget as the following notes wove into a beautiful whole. But the girl at the piano heard only the wrong note and ran out of the sanctuary in despair. Interesting, isn’t it, that the room was called a “sanctuary?” It’s okay to leave the sanctuary, but first, you owe it to those gathered there to finish the song. And you owe it to yourself, so you can feel their appreciation in the applause, and know that they forgive and forget one wrong note.

  5. Wish I had an inspirational quote, but alas I feel the same as you a lot of the time. Michaela is right, is seems so much harder as you get older to figure out what it is that you want out of life and what truly makes you happy. I do like Darleen’s quote though. I just may have to read that what to myself everyday :-)

  6. You are a remarkable woman who has surrounded herself with remarkable friends. They have given some great quotes. There’s also that one something like “everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Despite your fears, we all know you to be amazing and talented and infinitely capable of manifesting anything you set your sights/mind/heart on. Go, Layla. And don’t look back.