The diagnosis was grim—gremlins. I had gremlins. Not the adorable, fictional Mogwai that when fed after midnight turned into the sharp-toothed lizards of our ‘80s nightmares. Instead, I had figurative gremlins running around in my head, wrecking havoc, whispering words of failure, and offering sharp words of criticism.
Gremlins snuff out dreams; they lie to us. Gremlins tell us they are keeping us safe, but really they are keeping us prisoner. They tell us we don’t deserve that promotion, so don’t even ask; that it’s too late to learn how to downhill ski, you’ll break something; that we aren’t thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, funny enough—you get the point—the gremlins are fear.
My diagnosis came from friend and professional life coach, Laura Honeycutt. I wanted to pick her brain—what was wrong with me? I have wanted to blog for awhile; I’m a writer by trade and, yet, the idea of writing paralyzed me. Sure, I wrote stories for other people, about other people. But why would anybody care about my stories? I was afraid of failing at blogging. I know, champagne problems; insert eye roll here.
Instead of talking about my blogging paralysis, she shifted the conversation and asked me “what was something I was terrified of trying, but eventually conquered?”
Born and raised in Michigan, I always felt like I was the only person that didn’t know how to ski. No, we don’t have mountains, but we have big hills and five months of snow, so you ski.
“What were you afraid of?” Breaking something, breaking everything. Mostly though, I was afraid of falling and looking like an ass. I envisioned one of those ridiculous falls, that becomes a tumble; and if you’re a Loony Tunes character you end up a giant snowball at the base of the hill. I didn’t want to be humiliated. It really wasn’t about breaking bones; it was about bruising my ego.
“How did you get past it?” I freaking learned how to ski at 44! A good friend—young, athletic and clearly blessed with the patience of Job, had moved to Aspen and invited me out with the offer of teaching me how to ski. I figured, worst-case scenario, at least the view would be pretty while I was healing in a hospital room with two broken legs.
“What was the outcome?” As it turns outs, I’m a pretty good skier. I love anything that gives me an adrenaline rush. I love speed. I love being outdoors. Why did I ever think I shouldn’t downhill ski? By the second day I had made in onto the intermediate blue square slopes (No idea what that means? It’s a way of ranking the difficulty of the trails—green circle is easy, black diamond is hard).
And yes, I took one really bad tumble. Following my friend, who can easily ski any terrain, we dipped into a bowl and I lost my balance on the steep incline and tumbled; face planted into the snow, splayed out like a starfish on the beach, poles and skis flew in all directions. After taking a few cautionary wiggles to make sure I was all in one piece, I sat up, snow packed between my face and my favorite aviator sunglasses. Blinking the snow out of my eyes, I burst out laughing at the look on my friend’s face. He was horrified; sure I had injured something. As it turns out, snow is really, really soft and my ego is far more resilient than I thought.
Are you not doing something you want to do out of fear of danger or fear of failure? Staying physically safe is part of our DNA, engrained into the deepest folds of our brain. It keeps us from dying. Hello, fight or flight response! Emotional safety, fear of failure—protects our ego—and stops us from experiencing all that life has to offer.
Spanx founder, Sara Blakely, tells a story of growing up and having her dad regularly ask her and her siblings, “What have you failed at recently?” She credits her resilience to the way her father trained her to think about failure, learning that really the only failure in life was not trying at all.
Moral of the story—don’t feed the gremlins, they’ll just multiply. Meaning, get over the negative self-talk and try these tips:
- Identify the thing that’s giving you pause. Trying out for a play. Learning to cook. Asking for a raise. Getting that passion project off the ground.
- Instead of trying to enumerate the concerns you have for that project, you’ll just go down a rabbit hole of self-doubt, recall a different time in your life when you succeeded at something (anything). Getting your degree, perfecting your biscuit recipe, fixing the kitchen sink.
- Ask yourself these questions, and write down the answers. A) How did you feel before starting that project? B) What were your concerns? C) How did you address your concerns? D) What was the outcome?
- Now go do the thing that created the gremlins, and when the negative self-talk starts (and it will), take a look at what you wrote down. It is a reminder that you can do something from start to finish. Success is no guarantee, but at least you know you tried—and there is no failure in trying.
My gremlins? It took me another six months after I hung up the phone with my friend Laura, but here I am blogging! The thing that really stuck with me in our conversation was that the opposite of success isn’t failure; it’s not trying. So, even if this blogging thing goes nowhere, I know I didn’t fail because at least I tried.