On fear of failure

February 28, 2007

If you’re interested in great commentary and discussion on modern social issues, check out Po Bronson’s blog. Lately, he’s been writing about self-esteem and issues of childhood entitlement. This quote, posted a few days ago, I found particularly interesting:

When I interviewed 1,000 people for What Should I Do With My Life?, it was plainly apparent that so many of our smartest college students from our best schools are actually very risk averse. Coming out of college, they took jobs where the “track to success” was spelled out and clear. Wall Street, law school, corporate America — there was no imagination or creativity in these choices. And nothing daring about it. Ten years later, many of them were unhappy and unfulfilled. But quitting — even though they had lots of money in the bank — was absolutely terrifying to them. The loss of status scared them; the idea of jumping off a track and freestyling their career was frightening. They didn’t want to look not smart. They were afraid of taking a job that didn’t broadcast to the world how smart they must be to have that job.

It drove me crazy. Our smartest and brightest, wasting their talent. Why were they so darn risk averse?

I used to be the epitome of what Bronson describes above. If it wasn’t for a cancer diagnosis that shook me straight and forced me to reevaluate my outlook and priorities, I most definitely would still fit Mr. Bronson’s description to a “T.”

Here’s something I’ve learned though: Great work — especially great creative work — requires great risk. The creative spirit thrives in high-risk environments. Being truly creative requires doing what you love to do every day, and living the life you really want to live, and that, invariably almost always involves risk. But the way I see it, so does getting out of bed in the morning. Being smart is not a requirement for a life well-lived, but being daring almost certainly is.