You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Don't Be Afraid to Fail

The great thing about being successful is that you have no fear of taking risks. What most people don't understand is that if you don't have the fear mechanism in you, you won't be successful. By the fear mechanism, I don't mean being afraid to fail, I mean being afraid of not being successful. There is a world of difference.

When I told the world I was going to be a professional football player, if I had looked at how hard it was going to be, the struggles I'd have to go through, and the sacrifices I'd have to make, I probably would have talked myself out of even trying because I would have been afraid to fail. But to me, the fear of not being successful was more overriding. I didn't even think about how hard it would be; I just did it. I told people what I was going to do, and the fear of not doing it was a real motivator.

I believe that the only true failure in life is not attempting something you want to do. That's when you fail. You look at the hill and you say, 'There is no way I can climb that hill. It's icy. I don't have snowshoes. What am I going to do?' What you don't do is look at the top and get overwhelmed. You look at eye level and take one step at a time. And you don't have to put a time limit on it, either. Just keep one foot following the other and you'll get up that hill.

Now if you attempt it and it doesn't work out-you don't make it to the top because it got too dark or something, and you have to turn around-you didn't fail. The only true failure is if you don't make the attempt.

Say you're taking a test and you say, 'Oh, man, I'm going to fail this test.' How do you know? You haven't taken it yet. The hardest thing to do is to take that first step, answer that first question. Once you do, though, the fear is over. You go skydiving and you stand there looking out of the airplane and you're scared and you're saying, 'Oh, gee, I . . .' But once you take that first step, it's over. The fear is gone because you have no chance to go back. You're skydiving.

Say you want to write a book, but you're afraid it won't be good, or it will be too difficult to stay committed and finish it. Being afraid of it will never get it done. Get out a pencil and paper and put some words on the paper. You don't think about how hard it's going to be to get 300 pages written; you don't think about whether it's going to be a best-seller or not; you start writing down words, and then you're moving along, and eventually you're going to get over being afraid of the task. And if you're doing your best every time you sit down to write, then it does you no good to worry about whether what you've written is going to be good. Doing your best at attempting something you've wanted to do is a successful endeavor; whether the rest of the world thinks it's good is irrelevant. You've accomplished a goal because you conquered your fear of doing something a little scary.

Say you want to find someone to share your life with, but you're afraid you'll never find the right person, or you find the right person, but you're afraid it won't work. How do you know unless you try? You've got to walk out that door first and take that first step into a church choir or a cooking club or some kind of charity. You've got to go on out there and see what there is. A lot of people stand and look at what they want to do. They look and look and stare and obsess, but they never take that first step. They're afraid to fail, so they talk themselves out of it. A lot of people are afraid of relationships because they've been hurt in the past and don't want to risk that again. But how does that help you when you have decided you really don't want to be alone through life? It doesn't. Risking heartache is a big step for a lot of people, but you've got to move past that fear and into a mode where you're not afraid, and I believe that taking a step outside that fear is the first step-deciding that it's okay if it happens again.

I see the same fear in athletes who have suffered serious injuries. So many times, when they come back to playing, they're afraid to be the player they were before the injury because of the fear that they could get hurt again. Overcoming that psychological barrier is difficult, whether it be in relationships or injuries. The ones who are successful look at the situation and say, 'Okay, so I get hurt again; what does that mean?' Sometimes it means realizing that if you fixed it once, you can fix it again. That's not to say that the fixing process wasn't difficult, but it's a mechanism that is effective. You had surgery and rehab on your knee once, and, looking back, it really wasn't that bad. Your heart was broken, but now you're okay, and maybe that wasn't so bad, either. It's a matter of perception, of getting yourself to a place where not trying something is worse than a problem repeating itself.

It is true that the more challenge you take on, the more you risk. But at some point, you've got to take that first step toward failure in order to face the challenge on the road to becoming successful.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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