For a very long time I was terrified of failure.
The motivating force in my life was striving for perfection. I was always working towards being the best daughter, student, employee, partner, etc. But the problem with being focused on perfection is that it means you don’t take risks. When you are focused on success, you try to limit the opportunities for failure.
This fear of failure influenced my life in both small and big ways. It meant that I didn’t always try to learn new things. Some things that needed a long time to learn, like playing an instrument, were abandoned before I had a chance to really see if I would be good, mediocre, or bad. It was easier to walk away than potentially fail.
When I first entered in the field of psychology, I worked in clinical research. I was good at research. But I didn’t go to graduate school to be a researcher; I went to graduate school to be a therapist. But I stayed in research for years because I was succeeding there. Even though research did not feed my soul, it was “safer” than taking the risk of failing as a therapist.
Eventually the need to follow my soul’s calling, being a therapist, grew stronger than my fear of failure. And I took the leap into clinical work. I loved being a clinician and I worked in hospital and agency settings for years. But I knew that I really wanted to be in private practice. But that was really terrifying. I wasn’t an entrepreneur, an accountant or a business major. I was a therapist.
But eventually I took the leap. I left my agency job, started to share an office with another therapist and learned what I could about private practice. Things started out OK. I had a few clients and I was learning a lot about being self-employed.
And then things started to fall apart. I never realized how important being part of a team and interacting with coworkers was for me until I was working solo. I was lonely. I was stressed out about money and then our home was burglarized. I lost my focus, confidence and mojo. I was finally doing the thing I had dreamed of and I was miserable!
I started taking part-time counseling gigs to interact with peers and to bring in more money. Eventually the opportunity to work as a clinical supervisor landed in my lap. They were willing to be flexible with my schedule to allow me to keep a part-time private practice. I recognized I needed the financial stability to give myself some mental and emotional space. With that breathing room I could look at why my dream wasn’t working and regroup.
With the financial stress lifted, I really embraced the fact that I had failed. I had failed and we were not homeless or destitute. I had failed and the world didn’t end. I had failed and as a result of that failure learned a lot about what was important to me to be happy.
Over the next couple of years while working as a supervisor for that agency, I kept my private practice going and it grew slowly. I also built up my connections with other counselors and started really creating a vision in my mind about what I needed my private practice to look like. I had a vision of a collaborative of therapists who had the autonomy of a private practice but who worked together to share overhead, and who consulted and supported one another.
Once my vision was clear, I was able to leave the safety net of working for an agency and start taking the steps necessary to create the Chrysalis Healing Collaborative. I started working with the counselor who became my business partner, interns started reaching out to us, and like-minded therapists appeared who became Collaborative members.
But none of that was really possible until I failed. Failing freed me from the need to do things “perfectly” and create my own vision of a perfect private practice. Failing also freed me from being afraid to fail. Before when people would say “what’s the worst thing that can happen? You fail.” I would be paralyzed at the thought of failing.
So failure was cathartic, liberating, and vision-creating. As I was going through the process of regrouping after my failure, I proudly told my friends that “I failed spectacularly” that year. My hope for you is that you to take the chance to “fail spectacularly” so you are liberated to create a life that is richer and more fulfilling than you can image when you are playing it safe.