I clipped my own wings because I was afraid to fly.

In Inspiration by Carlissa Shaw6 Comments

What is your biggest fear? I would always answer this question with a cute and surface level answer like God or snakes. Now I do fear God and snakes but neither of those fears have ever caused me any type of paralysis. It wasn’t until I did some real work on myself and with myself that I was able to honestly answer that question and the answer really took my breath away.

I am afraid of failure.

All humans are afraid of failure to a certain extent, right? However, in deep reflection of my actions or inactions over the last 30 years I realized that my fear of failure is crippling.  I am so afraid of failure that I settle on mediocrity in every area of my life. I usually settle for mediocre so that I minimize my risk and failure is only minimally an option.

My entire life I have masked my fear with mediocre accomplishments that were both realistic and attainable by someone who has been given as much support, resources, and guidance as I have. I am in no way minimizing my accomplishments but in retrospect I never maximized my goals or the things that I aspired to do because of the idea of failure. I often termed fear of failure as “realistic.” I was only willing to make realistic goals or aspirations because I was afraid that if I aimed to high that I may fail. As I child I heard the phrase shot for the moon and if you miss you will land amogst the stars but no thank you. I would rather skip the moon ambition and develop a strategic and realistic plan on have I could land at the stars and do that instead.

I started this self reflection in my late 20s. I was a successful trial lawyer and to everyone on the outside I was “killing the game”  professionally, socially, and my community endeavors were successful. All the while I knew that I was under goal getting and making myself more and more comfortable in mediocrity.

When I applied to law school I remember buying a law school book that listed all the schools with rank and median GPAs and LSAT scores. I only applied to schools where the average GPA and LSAT score were comparable to mine. Long story short I got into every law school that I applied for minus two that I was waitlisted for but opted off of the waitlist. I have a boat load of extracurricular activities and internships but I was so “realistic” that I only applied to safe schools. No dream schools. Again, the moon seemed to far and those stars were reachable. So I choose the stars.

During the summer break after my second year of law school I was hanging out with a group of friends that were also in law school. One of my friends was attending Cornell. As soon to be lawyers often do, we were attempting to end the worlds problems with conversation and wine (probably moscato we did not know it was a dessert wine at the time) and at some point we got on grades and LSAT scores. In that moment I realized I was similarly situated to a guy that graduated from Yale. I did not apply to Yale or any other top law school because in the book that I bought I would not be accepted with my GPA and LSAT score. I did not give myself a chance to be rejected. Alternatively, I did not give myself the chance to be accepted. I did not apply to Cornell or any other school because I was afraid of failure.  

Although law school admission was many moons ago for me, I did this is every area of my life. I have never applied for a job that I was not qualified for. I’ve had several business ideas that I talked myself out of. I was even reluctant to post boyfriends of social media because the high likelihood of a failed relationship. This looming idea of failure penatrated very space in my life until I decided to find the source of the fear.

My fear of failure and reluctance to try the improbable is a coping mechanism in an attempt to protect myself from personal disappointment and public humiliation.  

Being a type A personality personal disappointment is a real thing. I have always been very hard on myself and like most I am my own biggest critic. I never wanted to let myself down so I did not aim as high as I could. Now I know that allowing fear to keep me from myself full potential should be the disappointment and not a failed attempt at something. Ideas that I had in my 20s I could have tried and failed several times between then and now and finally have things worked out.

Another harsh reality was that public humiliation played a major role in my decisions. We live in the world of social media realities were we all are pretending to be living our best lives and some days we actually are. But we are also usually just trying to figure it out like everybody else. For years I was afraid of failure because of public humiliation. However, I now realize how stupid that is. Anyone that has ever accomplished anything worth talking about usually have more stories about failure than success. People that are actually successful know about the struggle and will not judge you. The people that will judge you probably were not going to support you anyway. People are always going to talk. Just keep grinding.

One day very recently I decided that I was done selling myself short because of my fear of failure. I refuse to allow public or private failure stop me from manifesting a life that my full potential is realized.

If I am completely honest I am still very much afraid of failure but I had to come to terms that I want to see the fullness of all life has in store for me and I have to stop limiting God’s blessing with my human expectations.

Manifest your plan and be fearless in your pursuit of the life you want to live.

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  1. I am 51 years old & im still fighting this battle BUT honey no more. I had an ah ha moment yesterday & now reading this is my confirmation.

    I’m so glad you learned this earlier than I did.

    Proud of you & THANK YOU

  2. This, Carlissa, is so real ! I honestly feel that most people our age are experiencing similar “a-ha” moments due to self work and reflection – I surely am. You have found a way to bring comfort to those experiencing this and provide encouragement! Thanks

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