“We must travel in the direction of our fear.” John Berryman
Fear of failure is one of the most common reasons that human beings don’t begin to attempt to achieve their goals. We make up excuses for why we won’t ever achieve them and then justify inaction. Many of us play it safe because safety is more comfortable than uncharted territory.
There have been many times in my life that I’ve given up on a dream or avoided a situation due to fear. These moments were much more frequent when I was in high school and much of college, when I was more insecure, always worrying about what others thought of me. I gave up on my dream of becoming an author or becoming a magazine editor because I knew they were competitive fields. Instead, I went into accounting, a field that I could get instant, quantitative results of my success. Every A in an accounting course meant more than every A I received for a well-written paper that I submitted to one of my Communication Studies courses because I knew that no matter which teacher was grading my accounting exam, I’d still receive the A. The papers and essays, however, were subject to the teacher’s discretion. I knew that straight As in accounting would land me a job in a “Big 4” accounting firm, but straight As in my communication classes wouldn’t get me a writing job.
Since college, I have matured significantly and grown much more confident. The Nicole in high school passed being on the Varsity swim AND Varsity field hockey team out of fear of failure. What if I couldn’t compete at the highest level? Since I started on the field hockey team as a junior, I wasn’t as confident in my abilities and feared sitting on the bench all season on Varsity, so I opted to be the JV team captain instead. My swim coach in high school saw potential in me and wanted me to swim Varsity but I used the excuse of 6 a.m. practices to avoid moving up. I think in all honesty I was afraid to give it my all and then fail (I really didn’t want to wake up that early though – I used to sleep til noon every weekend in High School). I was afraid that my best wouldn’t be good enough. So I stuck with JV and then quit the team before my senior year so that I could get my first part-time job instead.
After college I faced quite a few fears by quitting my secure and highly coveted job, breaking up with a long-term boyfriend and living alone for the first time in my life. Soon after I traveled through Southeast Asia for 4 months, traveling for nearly 1.5 months on my own. My ultimate fear – being alone – changed from a fear to a source of confidence. That period was both the most difficult and the most satisfying of my life.
In terms of athletic fears, signing up for my first half marathon was a big step for me. It was a lofty goal coming from someone who have never run over three miles. I feared failure but instead of running from it, I faced it. My first marathon was the same, but my confidence had grown. I could do it. Triathlon presented another challenge but I was gaining confidence in my athletic ability and went for it.
Once Ironman discussions began, I started thinking of excuses not to sign up. I even e-mailed my training buddies with a list of reasons why we weren’t ready. In the end, I knew I wanted to do it but I was scared of failure. Scared that I didn’t have what it took to finish an Ironman.
Well now that fear is going to be put to the test. In just about 11 days, I’ll be at the starting line of my first Ironman. Just me and 2,500 of my closest friends, ready to kick the crap out of each other as we run down the beach and try to get our own space to swim in for 2.4 miles. Over the last year of training, I have gained a lot of confidence in my ability to not only complete the Ironman, but to do it at a decent pace. However, I still have a lot of nagging fears about this race.
This will be the first race that I have ever attempted that I am not VERY confident that I will finish. Although I am certain that I have put in the required work and I am quite confident that I won’t be pulled out of the swim or off the bike or run due to time cut offs, there are a lot of things that can go wrong on race day. Even the most well prepared athlete can DNF a race due to extreme weather conditions (hello – St. George), hypothermia due to a cold lake, GI distress, bike malfunction or worse. I’d be lying if these thoughts of failure haven’t crossed my mind over and over during the last year. Yesterday in particular I got myself quite worked up over the lake temperature and the weather in CdA. Other than the lake temperature, I am most fearful of the swim start. I’m scared to death of being pummeled by large men during the swim – and since I’m a middle of the pack swimmer, it doesn’t make sense for me to start at the back of the pack to avoid the crowds and then spend 2.4 miles swimming around people.
BUT… even though sometimes I want to hide and not even show up to the starting line on race day, I will be there with a smile on my face. Instead of focusing on all of the things I can’t control, I need to take comfort in all the work that I did to get my body ready for the race. I’ve purchased a neoprene cap and booties to keep me warm on the swim, I’ve learned that I need to just keep my head down and swim to avoid being punched in the face (and also learned to accept that it will probably happen anyway), I’ve practiced changing my tires, and I have practiced race day nutrition over and over. I’ve done everything I can to mitigate the risks that inevitably will be present on race day. I need to let go of my worries and visualize myself crossing that finish line on race day.
That moment will be worth every 5:30 AM wake-up call, double workout day, seven hour day out on the road, mile ran, and dollar spent.