Here the other day I found myself pondering about the beauty of life and that it cannot be predicted to its fullest. I find it fascinating how well the human race has adapted throughout the ages and how well we are at changing conditions to fit our needs. However, I find it contradicting one fundamental behaviour in human nature; the need for structure and routine. We are creatures of habits, and many cannot cope with changes, yet if there is something that the human race is good at it is adapting to change. Why is that? Here are my thoughts on the matter.
The horrors of failure
The consequences of failure is what I call “the horrors of failure”. Our educational system has many good things that can be said about it. However this post will not focus on them. Instead, I will describe a problem with it. It promotes (not surprisingly) already great students; scholarships are awarded to good students and your grades determine if you are good. Conversely, unsuccessful students tend to become unmotivated and feel totally defeated and left out. The problems are many with this system and one of the worst outcomes is the “fear of failure”.
The fear of failure is not only stressful and forces us to perform on a test during our times as students, it haunts people during work hours and in every day decision making. The fear of failure cripples people by making them overexaggerate the impact a certain decision has. This is completely insane! I have had some really interesting discussions with collegues, friends and even with myself on this matter. I have just tought myself to stop listening to those thoughts, and so can you. For instance, so what if you took the wrong turn while driving? Most of the time you will not fall off of a cliff or end up in a bad neighbourhood, right? So what if the eggs have passed their freshness date, you can still eat them. So what if you accidentally created a bug in a software. So what if you did something embarrassing in front of a total stranger. It is not likely you will meet that person again, let alone remember you for that matter. Additionally, the stories usually tend to be great fun looking back upon. “Remember the time you fell out of your chair during class?”
The need for planning
At an early stage of life “fun” was basically all I could care about. I count learning as being part of this term since I could always have fun with my parents while doing homework. Furthermore, even though it was snowing I could not find one single excuse to not go outside and play. Growing up, we realize we cannot just simply go outside and “play”. We need to cook dinner, drive the children to soccer practice, help them do homework, get some physical activity ourselves. There is simply too much to do within the few hours we have after work. Therefore, people tend to plan their days, weeks, well, even the whole year. We cannot simply move away from the planning. Or can we? The problem with this “model” is the rigidness of the plan. Whenever something changes, the plan needs to be adjusted. This leads to frustration if there are more than one person involved (which is usually the case, right).
Anyone that knows me knows I am everything but a planning person, and yet I do finish my work. Instead of working sequentially, that is do the dishes, then clean the house, then take some time to watch series, I do all of these in parallel. While cleaning the house I (pretty much always) listen to a lecture on some topic. This is super stressful for some people. The need to finish something and then move on to the next is such a basic need in many peoples mind and is for me very interesting. The reason this is interesting for me is that people (for some reason) tell me how to do my things.
To anyone that is thinking in plans I give you this; what would happen if two or more items fell off of your plan? What would the impact be if you take a bit longer to finish? Can you live with it? Many times you will realize that the impact isn’t as great as you thought it was. Just the thought of things being less harmful than you thought they were gives a sense of comfort. It is ok, so to speak. Just realize, some people react differently. So make sure you do not hurt someone!
The need for status
This is one of the most disturbing and maybe the hardest one to change. Opposite to the “fear of failure” you also want your effort to be acknowledged. For me, giving someone a pat on the back is something obvious. However, not everyone is good at handling such situations. Some companies like to say “this is how we have done things around here” and some people like to make everything revolve around them as in “well I put my effort into this 5 years ago and I do not want to change it”. These kinds of thinking are not only counterproductive, but also harmful in many ways. One way it can be harmful is that it does not promote creativity and when creativity is not around, there is little room for improvements.
Last but not least are the thousands of excuses that tend to haunt people. How many times have you not held yourself back because of some unrelated problem? Maybe the problem is related, but you still didn’t take the time to categorize it as being an excuse. You have probably had this conversation; “How is your X (school, practice, business, love life) going? Well it is going well but ….” and if you are the one answering you find yourself finding a huge amount of things why it is not going well. Being the one asking the question isn’t better. People tend to feel sorry because of the excuses. Granted, sometimes the excuses are valid but more often than not, they are not.
Feeling sorry for the receiver of the question acknowledges the excuse and being acknowledged is, as previously stated, something everyone likes. In other words, this situation makes the excuse “ok” and we procrastinate or do things half-measured. The worst thing that does come out of this behaviour (i.e finding excuses) is that it cripples self-improvement and it impairs the ability to take a risk which could potentially lead to great success.
There is a saying, “you learn as long as you live”. I would like to turn it around and say, “you live as long as you learn”. By stopping yourself from finding excuses, looking to maintain your status, having a rigid plan, being afraid of failure you improve! In turn, this improvement leads to further improvements. In other words you create a snowball effect where one small amount of snow rolling down a hill creates a larger and larger snowball. Once there is a baseline to use, the fear of failure will become extinct, you start to realize that your status has been in the way for new ways of thinking (and improving) and your plans become more flexible. All of these things together will in turn add to your exciting life and yield opportunities you haven’t even considered.