I Dare you to Fail–it might be the best thing you ever do!

mean-old-ladyI had the worst first grade teacher ever. She was a cranky old bitty who thought I was stupid, who broke all my pencils, and who threw my shoes in the garbage. I hated her.

But I owe her a huge thank you.

She was my introduction to difficulty. She was my very early initiation into the practice of not perseverance, but of overcoming.

I could have accepted her early analysis of my intellectual capabilities. I could have started the inner monologue of my incompetence, my inability, and my general suckiness, but instead, despite my immature, impressionable six year-old mind, I made impossiblemy very first decision to overcome, to confront her analysis head on, and to prove her wrong.

That was the first time I confronted an obstacle, and I believe it set the precedent for how I would handle all the obstacles to come.

Where did my courage to deal with the difficulties that have come my way over the last several decades come from?

I believe that it came from that very first experience with her. She had told me I couldn’t. She had told me I was dumb. She had labeled me and written me off. But I didn’t accept that, and by third grade I proudly walked the long hall to her room to hold my report card full of A’s to her startled face.

Dadgummit! I had done it! I had proven her wrong, and if I’d proven her wrong, why couldn’t I overcome the next obstacle, and the next one?

I had overcome, and that overcoming gave me faith that I could do it again.

Because of her, from the very beginning, I was only too aware of my imperfections. I never labored under the false perception of perfection, so when I screwed up, as I inevitably did time and again, it was not the end of my world. I did not label myself as a failure, but instead, I recognized that I could do better, be better.

failure-and-successI was very aware of my ability to change and to grow, because I had proven that ability from the tender age of six. I had proven to myself that I could be better tomorrow than I was today. I never thought I was perfect, but I knew that with effort, with tenacity, I could be more than who I was currently.

If I had stepped out of the gate with straight A’s, if it had come easy to me from the very beginning, if I hadn’t had the very early lessons in difficulty, would I have had the courage to confront obstacles instead of just avoiding them? Would I have been scared to risk failure and take chances if I wasn’t thrust into it so early on?

According to Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset: the new Psychology of success” I very well might not have. How we deal with failure early on, predicts how we are likely to deal with it our entire lives–unless me mindfully make a decision to deal with it differently.

If, when we are confronted with difficulty, we choose to overcome it, we will keep daring, keep risking, keep pushing our limits to see what we are capable of doing.

If, when confronted with difficulty, we back away, and stay in our comfort zone of what we know we do well, in our zone of tried and true success, we are likely to never find the true potential of what we could do.

failureAnd it all starts when we’re just little peanuts. If we allow our failings to be an impetus for growth, rather than a label of who we are–a failure–we can become so much more.

It is that very willingness to confront the obstacle that I learned way back then that keeps me blogging. I have blogged for years, and yet my following consists mainly of my mother, a couple of loyal family members, and a handful of faithful friends. Logic says that I should have given this up long before now, but am I going to quit? Nope. I’m going to keep doing it, becoming better, working out the kinks, until one day, I firmly believe, someone (hopefully lots of someones–and this isn’t to say I don’t appreciate you, my faithful few!) is going to notice.

And my novel. I know it’s going to get rejected. Probably many times. Is that going to stop me from writing it, or from sending it out to the inundated world of agents and publishers?

The-best-success-stories-often-begin-with-failure_-8x10Absolutely not. It didn’t stop Stephen King and it didn’t stop J.K. Rowling, and it’s not going to stop me. I will keep working on it, tweaking it, taking the advice and suggestions I am given, until finally, one day, someone says, “Yes. I’m going to take a chance on you.”

Sometimes, this mountain I’m trying to climb seems insurmountable, and I am tempted to throw in the towel, but I just can’t do that.

Thank you, Kelly, for the nudge I needed through the book “Mindset” you sent my way, and thank you Chris, for the nudge you gave me with the book “Daring Greatly.” It is a good reminder to keep going, keep trying, and keep believing, that by daring to put myself out there, I am doing something worthwhile.

And thank you Cassandra for telling me you “want to be [me] when you grow up.” You say that to me now, not as a published author, but as one who is daring to try to become one. It reminds me that it’s not the success I achieve, but the willingness to dare to achieve it that is truly admirable.

So, if it’s the willingness to try that sets us apart, what is it that you need to be willing to risk? What is it that you need to dare to do? Aren’t you curious of just how much you can achieve?

Daring to risk and failing, does not make you a failure. It makes you courageous. I dare you to dare with me.

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Sometimes You’ve Just Got to Jump off the Deep-end to See if You Can Swim

kid-writing-600xFrom the time when I was small, I wanted to be a writer. I remember starting my first journal when I was in the fourth grade–when I didn’t have anything more interesting to say than a play by play version of the events of the day.

A few years of maturity gave me the added medium of poems (not very good ones I must admit!) and finally, in High School, I started my very first story. It was awful–and I knew it was awful. It was so awful that for a long time I convinced myself that my dream of being a writer was nothing more than a pipe dream.

I was a good writer in general; I knew that. Every professor I’d ever had told me I was a good writer. My poetry became better as I matured too, and I was even able to publish a few of them. By the time I wrote my master’s thesis, my professors were telling me I should consider publishing. I didn’t take them very seriously though. I was good at things like essays and poetry, but I just didn’t have what it took to write a novel, or so I thought.

Every time I thought of trying a novel, I thought back to that first failed attempt. I was a high school kid trying to write a historical fiction novel without any research…or any real concept of where it was heading. I just jumped in and started at the beginning. My dialogue was stilted, because I didn’t know who my characters were and I hadn’t had enough life experience to know how real conversations went…it was a train wreck!

Add to that my husband who is amazingly gifted and talented. He’s written a fantasy novel and I was his main editor. I marveled at his gift for dialogue and his ability to create a whole new world. My imagination didn’t work like that. I was talented, but not like he was talented.

For years I left it at that, but then I started to realize something. I knew a whole lot more about writing today than I did when I was a kid in High School. Dialogue wouldn’t be a struggle anymore because I knew how real adult conversations played out. Not only that, but I now understood that I needed a plan. And, though I wasn’t talented like my husband, I didn’t need to be. It was apples to oranges. My talent was going to be different than his, that didn’t mean it was less. It was just different. andrewstanton-ted_poster_translated_v21

So I began thinking of all the books I’ve read (and believe me, there are a ton of them) and I asked myself what made the best ones better than the others. I watched what they did. I watched their character development, I watched the dialogue, I watched how plot was built, and I watched how the best had something deeper going on beneath the surface–ways that the reader could relate to them and how they had the potential to change the reader or their outlook on the world.

I took all this knowledge and I thought of what I have so often heard stated–write about what you know. For this first story, I didn’t write a historical fiction, though someday I could see myself writing in the vein of Kate Morton or Susanna Kearsley, and I didn’t start with a fantasy or dystopian book (well, I have started one, but it’s on the back burner) though that tends to be my favorite genre, I started with what I know, and I spun out from reality and created something different. A character who resembles me, but who makes choices I didn’t make, who responds differently, and who almost loses everything before she realizes what she has.

a-63And you know what, I think it’s good. I started my first book 25 years ago and almost gave up altogether, but I finally faced my fear of failure and tried again. And I’m really glad I did. I am 80% done (or there about) and I likely will finish in the next couple of weeks. And then I will have written a novel–one I actually believe is good. I know that is only the start of the road. The road to publishing and actually getting people to read the thing is one fraught with rejection, but I’m going to stick myself out there, and hopefully, someone will see a book with believing in.

So often in life, we think we can’t so we don’t try. Our early dreams fall by the wayside. Some we’ve outgrown, but some, some we bury because we think we can’t, but the reality is we don’t know what we can do until we try. I’m glad I tried–even if no one ever reads it, I’m glad I’ve taken the chance.

What is it for you? What dreams have you told yourself you can’t reach, or aren’t practical, or whatever excuse it is you apply to it? Is it one you’re really okay letting fall by the wayside? Or is it one that you will always regret not at least seeing if it might be possible?