“What would you do today if you weren’t afraid to fail?”
This is a quote on a magnet which hangs neatly on my refrigerator. This quote changed my life. Fate isn’t something we just wake up and experience as easily as the first cup of coffee makes its molten ascent out of the carafe, smooth and steady. Embracing my ambition to become a psychotherapist was not always written in the stars. The act of becoming presents road blocks, brick walls, doors slammed in the face, the slaying of a few dragons, encountering some villains, all in a day’s work when we are attempting to become the best version of our self. I was afraid to fail.
Many years ago, I was on a fast track to earning a degree in English Writing with a Minor in English Literature. It was in an honors literature course that I encountered Sigmund Freud’s Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis. I was hooked, immediately changing my major to devote my academic trajectory and the rest of my life to studying and practicing counseling psychology. It started off very well, the theories and interpretation all came to me fluidly and I was thrilled at the prospect of embodying this calling.
The University of Pittsburgh, where I was studying, has an excellent and rigorous Psychology program, where degrees are offered as a Bachelor’s of Science. Subtle but vastly significant differences that translate to very heavy upper level mathematics courses, calculus and statistics, trigonometry. Any of the psychology baccalaureates from the university are very well prepared to become researchers, quantifying and perpetuating the latest science in the field. I have been plagued with math anxiety for my entire life, even basic mathematics courses becoming source for struggle in high school. Quite a dichotomy from the experiences of studying in my social sciences or English courses where a deep understanding of concepts would simply flow to me. Numbers terrified me, but I wanted it, I wanted the degree, I wanted to learn more about papa Freud and his procession of disciples, I wanted to do this every day. Never falling victim to fear, I enter business calculus, two weeks of lectures and each day I departed while suffocating tears behind the ever growing lump in my throat. I withdrew from the course and resigned myself to not being good enough to enter the field. “Leave it behind, you aren’t good at math and you never were!” Hearing all of those self-berating thoughts which are eager to leap out and from the shadows, the stop signs, the yield signs, the take a u-turn! I switched back to English writing, still something I loved to do, no there would be no therapy couch, no exploration of the unconscious. This was where I would settle for less than what I wanted out of fear and a sense of inadequacy. Life went on as it always does, we stuff down our displaced dreams, we move on to be productive, to succeed someplace that doesn’t provoke our fears too much, we choose that which is low risk, “this is sensible” we tell ourselves, “you can’t do this” fear says.
A couple of years later, walking down the aisle of Whole Foods, I saw that magnet, “What would you do today if your weren’t afraid to fail?” Before I could formulate the whole thought each fiber in me knew, If I weren’t afraid to fail, I would study psychology, and study psychology is exactly what I did. Reentering those math courses and working harder than I ever had to work to achieve success at anything, attending every study group, showing up to class early and staying late, by blood and sweat I did it, and all of that hard work didn’t just gain me a pass but I “A”ced all of those stats courses and made it through the program to graduate with honors. Now math isn’t even so scary any more, I have come to appreciate some of its applications when it comes to the field of psychology.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? What would it be? Where do you feel a sense of defeat? Would you ask the girl out on a date? Would you tackle an addiction? Would you learn how to fly a plane? Would you write the next great American novel? Work on your marriage? Back pack Europe? Learn to prepare the perfect Indian Curry? Become fluent in Chinese? Put an end to some defeating or depressing pattern in your life? Start coping with your anxiety? Learn to fly and airplane? Cope with Depression? Work on your start up company? What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? By this time you may be wondering, how do you get over this fear of failure, we have an answer for that too, you don’t, the most successful among us have failed a hundred times but have gotten back up one hundred and one, and that is what makes all of the difference!
We hope our humble magnets’ question is as resonant with you as it is for us!
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Nicole Monteleone MA, LPC, NCC
Reviving Minds Therapy
Counseling and Wellness Center Pittsburgh
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh PA 15233