Last year my son had a personal dictionary project which consisted of letter written to him from people who matter to him. It was a very profound realization that people who I don’t know well (some of his teachers) have such a deep connection with him and care so much about him. Some of the letters I read literally brought me to tears but also intimidated me, because I knew I had to write one too.
What was I going to talk about? What could I teach him? I was going back and forth and couldn’t decide until I finally realized I wanted to talk to him about failure. I wrote this letter to him but I am sure I am not the only mother who feels the same way. Share it with your son or daughter. If you have the time, I would love to read your comments too.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain
It was very difficult for me to choose what to write about in your personal dictionary letter. There are so many things that I would like to share with you that hopefully will help you in your journey of becoming an adult. I was jumping from idea to idea in the past couple of days and I could not decide. Everything sounded so superficial to me, so not “it”.
I looked back to my childhood, my teenage years and I was hoping to find something that I regretted not knowing at the time. I was looking for something that I wish someone took the time to teach me or show me, something that would have made a difference in my life. I asked myself the question, if there was one thing I want you to know, one thing that I want to teach you, what would that be? And I got it.
There is one thing I would like to talk to you about and that is fear, and especially the fear of failure.
The environment I was raised in thrived on fear. I spent most of my life being scared of anything and everything, sometimes with good reason, sometimes not.
I was scared to get hurt.
I was scared to be embarrassed.
I was scared to try new things.
But most of all, I was scared of failure.
In my family, failure was not an option. I grew up under the pressure of difficult economic circumstances and very high expectations. When you are as they call it “economically disadvantaged” the word “waste” does not exist in your vocabulary. The whole concept that you could be wasting anything- food, money, your time or any other resource you have available at your disposal, is simply incomprehensible. Therefore, organization, efficiency and common sense are vital for your survival in a world where the only person you can count on, is yourself.
My life was not easy, just as the life of my parents and their parents before them was not easy. Just like everyone else before me, I learned to survive, I learned to fight my fights, and later I learned to thrive. Contrary on what you would believe, fear got me there.
When I say fear, I don’t mean the “scared of the dark” type of fear. I mean the fear that grips you by the throat, freezes your limbs and you are afraid to breathe, move or make a decision, because you know in your gut that no matter you do, you are the only one responsible, you are the only one who will deal with the consequences and you have to survive. That is the same fear that makes you doubt yourself, thinking that you are not good enough, that you don’t deserve a chance or that you will never ever make it, because you…(fill in the blank)…I’ve heard you say that before and it breaks my heart. That is why I feel it’s my duty to tell you this:
Nothing, absolutely nothing in your “deal with life tool belt” is as important, as for you to learn to master your fear!
As Mark Twain said above, do not strive to eliminate fear out of your life. That is not only impossible but foolish to consider. Fear, as weird as it might sound to you, is very useful. Fear can be a great force to move you forward. However, if you let it be your master, you are risking wasting many great opportunities that could bring you closer to who you want to be.
When I was your age, I realized I would never be free of fear. I realized that no matter how hard I try, there would always be something I am scared of. That is when I made myself a promise to always do what scares me the most. It helped me stand up for myself many times when bowing my head would have been much easier. It helped me take every opportunity that came my way to move forward, to become something new, to experience something exciting and adventurous. It helped me become more open to new people, places and experiences. It helped me be more tolerant, compassionate, understanding and to cultivate my empathy for the world around me. It helped me trust myself more. Listening to my inner voice made me much stronger and resilient than I would have been if I didn’t try to overcome my fear. Fear gave me the courage to overcome it.
That is what I want you to learn. Do not be scared of your fear! Remember that you always have a choice: hiding behind fear your whole life or embrace and conquer it. The moment you accomplish this you will realize that there is nothing in this world you can’t do. It doesn’t matter what people tell you or what they think. What matters is that you know in your heart that no matter what, you will be OK.
When you are growing up, make mistakes, take chances, explore your limits and don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong or you don’t know something. All of this is part of growing up and shaping you in the adult person you will become. Of course, part of growing up is realizing the difference between doing something reckless and something that will raise you up, and that is experience you have to (unfortunately) live through on your own. No matter how much I try to protect you and guide you, at the end of the day you make your own choices. With these choices come responsibilities and you have to learn to accept them. No matter what I tell you or ask you to do, I cannot live though your experience for you but if I have done my job right as a parent, I won’t need to.
There is no way to be universally liked, universally accepted and universally loved. There will always be people who will dislike you or what you do for one reason or another. Don’t become a slave to the opinion of others. Use your brain, good judgment and strong heart to make decisions that make you feel at peace with yourself but most of all…don’t be afraid to fail. If you never know failure, if you never experience loss, you will not live life to the fullest, and I don’t wish this to my worst enemy.
I don’t want to burden you with my wishes or expectations of who or what you should become. I don’t want the fear of disappointing me to impede your progress in becoming your own person. I am sure that when the time comes, you will not make the right decisions every time but I know in my heart you will damn well try to do so, and that is what matters.
Live! Dream! Work hard! Fail! Work even harder! Be YOU!
I love you,