“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.”
– Eloise Ristad
Nature has a way of humbling you and making you realize just how fragile, and insignificant you are. When my friend and I were in the 4×4 trekking up the Eyjarfjallajokull glacier in Iceland I couldn’t stop staring out the window. The shades of yellow, green and brown of the terrain gradually became hidden under a blanket of white powder as we ascended the mountain. Once we reached the peak – the crevices of the land were no longer identifiable, and the blizzard hid everything further than 5 feet from our view. There’s something daunting about the unforgiving nature of the elements.
Our guide revved up the engine of the snowmobile and I immediately hopped into the driver’s seat with my friend propped right behind me. I was half-listening as he went over the instructions on how to operate the vehicle, and safety precautions – I just wanted to get moving. We finally got the green light and I squeezed tightly onto the right handle to accelerate. Driving the snowmobile was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. It was heavy, and it was hard to control the steering as we made sharp turns. I was terrified of us flipping, and we were constantly trailing behind the rest of the group. I lost the group amid a snow storm as the winds picked up. In my attempt to make a right turn to try to search and reunite with them I lost control of the snowmobile and we tipped over.
We did a face plant into the snow and laid on our sides with the snowmobile intertwined with our legs. The very thing that I was wary of happening – happened – and it was absolutely comical. When the guide found us, he asked if we were okay and I couldn’t stop laughing. He lifted the snowmobile off us and we dusted the snow from our bodies. We hopped back on the vehicle – but this time it was different. I wasn’t scared to fall anymore. I started accelerating faster than the group and doing tricks to my friend’s dismay. I thought to myself how I should’ve fallen a lot sooner because now I was able to fully enjoy the experience without reservation. This experience by far was a top 10 moment in my life.
I try to challenge myself to be open minded and seek out activities that peak my curiosity and that I most likely will have a high fail rate in. I enjoy a good thrill and have yet to master the art of patience. Whenever I try something new, I just jump right in – and to be honest, I usually fuck up. You could make a compilation of all my fuck ups from flying off a jet ski, to crashing go-karts, tumbling down the bunny slope in my skis, slipping off the high-dive and profusely falling at an ice-skating rink. Failing…although terrifying in the moment – is quite liberating. It’s been through constant public failures that I’ve been able to build a high resilience to being comfortable with not succeeding right away. It’s also helped me build a greater defense to internalizing what others think of me.
A few years ago, I watched a Ted Talk called, “What I learned from 100 days of rejection” by Jia Jiang. He shares his life-long fear of failure and rejection and how he knew his insecurities were inhibiting him from living a fulfilling life. He went on a journey to desensitize himself from rejection and failure which he labeled 100 days of rejection. His experiments ranged from asking a security guard to give him $100 to requesting a “burger refill” at a fast food restaurant to offering to plant flowers in a stranger’s back yard. What was most interesting is that out of a list of outrageous requests that were ridden with “Nos” he received some yeses. Krispy Kreme donuts agreed provide him a donut that was shaped like the Olympic symbol, and his local Starbucks allowed him to be a voluntary “customer door greeter.” As he became more fearless in his journey he began to attempt more outrageous things such as asking a stranger if he could fly his airplane with no experience, knocking on a stranger’s front door to ask if he could play soccer in his backyard, and pulling over a police officer to ask to sit in the front seat and act like he was driving his car. The wildest part – is the responses to these farfetched requests were “Yes.” At the end of his 100-day rejection therapy journey he walked away with 51 Yeses and 49 Nos.
I find myself conducting mini experiments like that of Jiang’s because to me, the possibility of a favorable outcome outweighs the detriment of a negative outcome. I tend to lean on the spectrum that things will work in my favor, but when they don’t, I don’t beat myself up about it. I’ll never forget the day of my 14th birthday when my team lost the Volleyball championship game. I was devastated. I remember my coach giving us a pep talk after the game and saying there is no such this as failure – you either win or you learn and that’s followed me to this day.
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.”
So, if you see me with my nose in a book studying to retake the GRE, or catch me fiddling with the bow on my Violin, observe me at a networking event pitching my fifth business idea, or hear me conjugating verbs in Tigrinya that don’t make sense – don’t mind me because I’m not getting my feet wet…I’m diving right in.