What’s Stopping You?

Photo of green coffee cup with napkin that has "try something new" written on it.
© PixelsAway, Bigstock.com

By GAIL JOKERST

A decade may have passed since I first saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the movie theater, yet one line from the film remained with me ever since: “The only real failure is the failure to try.”

Those words nudged me out of my comfort zone many times since then. 

Admittedly, some items on my list qualified as more playful or physically challenging, such as line dancing and table tennis, but even those require discipline and agility. 

The important point for me was questioning what would keep me from pursuing these activities more seriously, given the opportunity to do so. The answer surprised me: pride. 

Humility and patience are required to willingly be a beginner again. Whether it was putting a spin on a table tennis ball, or mastering a new dance step, I didn’t want to be publicly embarrassed by missing a serve or tripping over my own feet. 

It was as if I thought everyone else who attempted learning a new skill aced it the first try. Even Baryshnikov must have twisted his ankle practicing pirouettes. Mastery takes persistence. 

There will always be people who are better or worse than I am at something, however, I’ve realized that shouldn’t be what moves or stops me. This isn’t about them. It’s about me having the willingness to try and possibly look foolish. I set the standard of my success, and I can set that bar as high or low as I choose. 

When I began writing this essay, I realized this idea wasn’t something I had tuned into previously. But after mentioning it to a friend, she shared an insight her son told her while teaching the French horn to high schoolers. Contrary to the maxim, he said “Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect. But it does make us better.” 

I liked that. It reminds me that my goal isn’t to be the best. It’s to engage without fear or self-consciousness for the pleasure of the adventure and the happiness it brings.

Shortly after that conversation, I serendipitously found an article by Arthur C. Brooks, “Go Ahead and Fail” in The Atlantic. I laughed when I saw that title, realizing what had been going on in my consciousness was also bouncing around in the mental universe. 

The takeaway for me from that article was that perfectionism can make you miserable. Muster the courage to mess up. It seems the human species will do almost anything to avoid looking bad in front of others. 

For many, the article explains, fear of failure overpowers the desire to succeed at something new. Consequently, many never bother to try.

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” concluded that our “measure of success is how we cope with disappointment.”

I may never enter a table tennis tournament or be a candidate for “Dancing with the Stars,” but I simply want to prove to myself that fear can’t keep me from doing something potentially fulfilling and joyous. It can’t keep me from taking risks or finding humor in my blunders. After all, it’s my attitude, not the activity itself, that really measures my success. 

If I fail, I can try again and enjoy it. There’s nothing disappointing about that. MSN