I remember a time when I was about 11. It was in the summer and one of the rare times we ever went to a pool. I couldn’t swim well, and was very scared of the water. I’d never really been around it except 1-2 times of going to a creek and 1-2 times of going to the public pool for an end of the summer pool party with a local day camp.
This was at one of those parties. I don’t know how I got talked up onto the diving board, but I did. I was terrified. My knees were shaking so badly I thought I might just go ahead and fall in. Once I was out there, there was a line of kids waiting on the step, so there was no turning back. If a person could wish herself out of existence, I would have done it right then.
I should go ahead and tell you that my uncle was there waiting for me, promising to catch me when I jumped. But I was still scared. I stood there for what felt like an eternity with tears streaming down my cheeks. Finally, I took what must have been the smallest step ever.
But I did it.
True to his word, my uncle caught me. And I felt a thrill, that exhilaration, that only happens when you do something you didn’t think you could do.
I immediately ran to an adult who was very close to me. Someone whose approval I desperately craved but never could seem to get. I said, with all of the enthusiasm of an 11 year old girl, “Are you proud of me? I did it!”
This person looked at me with hard eyes and said, “No. It took you a long time and you cried. Why would I be proud of that?”
Those words deflated me, and had a lasting effect.
I learned to be safe.
I learned not to do anything hard because I could fail. It might be too hard. It might take too long. And I might cry a little in the process.
Basically I learned never to try. I spent the following years doing only things that were comfortable. Things that were easy. Things that were sure. I suffered a lot of pain and missed opportunity because of fear. Fear of falling short. Fear of disappointing. Fear of failure.
But I have learned that this person was wrong. So very wrong. Because it’s the hard things that matter most.
I wish I could go back and look my 11 year old self in the eyes and tell that broken-hearted girl that she didn’t fail.
Failure is when you give up. When you hide away and don’t even try.
Sometimes, failure can even look like success. All those years that I succeeded because I didn’t let myself try anything hard. I never failed because I never tried and that is the biggest failure of all.
I wish I could go back and tell my child self that those hard-won battles are the ones that matter. Those moments of pushing through even when we have no idea of the outcome and are scared to death. Those are the moments that define us.
And I am tired of being defined by fear.
This week, I am jumping off that diving board again.
All my life, I have dreamed of being a traditionally published author. It took me nearly 30 years to even admit that out loud, because I was so scared of how big that was. And so scared of the failure that could come from admitting a too-big dream. Still yet, I have allowed fear to hold me in a vice. I haven’t taken the steps needed to fully pursue the dream–writing, editing, submitting. I have avoided those things, because that would mean trying. And trying could mean failing.
But, I am done with that. This week I will be in St. Louis, joining with hundreds of fellow writers and industry professionals at the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference. A very expensive, real push toward pursuing that dream. I’m going by myself without really knowing anyone, and it is so far out of my comfort zone, it’s not even funny.
It’s hard. It’s scary. And there is a good chance that I could fail.
But it won’t be because I’m hiding.