Fearing Failure

Water St.
A director friend at dinner the other night mentioned that people fear failure so much they won’t try new things. That it stunts the creative process, too. I’ve never had a problem learning in public- a contentious issue when I was learning Ruby on Rails recently. I asked this on FriendFeed the other day– “name one thing you are learning, that you are bad at” and got 77 responses (good, for me).

So the thing is: to start something new, you have to try it. And since you’ve never done it, you’re going to be bad at it. You just have to get over that.

A friend from way back reminds me of this situation. She wanted to make some stuff, but she was always intimidated by him. She didn’t want him telling her what to do, and so she never got into it. She wouldn’t let herself just be bad at it. She only wanted to do things that she was good at, right out of the gate.

So what happens? We never learn things, we always drift to those things that we were born doing well. We never give ourselves a break, we’re harsh critics, and we don’t have much fun since we limit our activities.

We blame all sorts of things: age, namely. That “kids learn easier.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this as an excuse not to take a foreign language. It’s a misinterpreted study wheeled out by each individual in turn. The study goes like this: at age 2 or 3, we learn thousands of words a day, at a rate that is unmatched throughout our lifetime. Are we going to stop learning things because we’re not as good as we were at 2? That’s ridiculous!
Others say it’s far easier to learn a language at any age up to 10, by immersion. Well, there’s another study that says bilinguals have a hard time learning other things during that period, too. So pfffft.

Ask any actor- the more you start memorizing, the better you get at it. The same goes for learning. The more you do it, the better you are at it. My first day of Mandarin, at age 33, was two characters, “hello.” I had a hard time memorizing them, much the less recognizing them in a line-up. By my 3rd year I could study a page of 30 characters one night and ace a quiz in the morning.

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