That was a question I first heard on a podcast that has quickly become one of my favorites, "Unf*ck Your Brain". A lot of people I've talked to didn't get the same impact from the question as I did. They must not be listening to the podcast. They're missing out.
But the question resonated with me, and I have a feeling a lot of people with a debilitating fear of failure would benefit from thinking on this one too.
I want to break down exactly what this question sparks in me, and share just what kind of meaning it's already started to bring into my every day life.
I'm petrified of failing. Maybe it's that one D I got on a report card in elementary school that sparked it. Maybe it's the fact that I came out on top of a lot of school projects by working the system and learning the teachers instead of the material. Or perhaps it's the fact that I get some of my best work done last minute. (That's what my inner demons chant around the fire, but that's a topic for another day.) However you look at it, I've spent the majority of my life earning grades, getting jobs, and most of it was a first time success. I didn't have a lot of failure, so the first time it happened for me...in any capacity...it was devastating.
As much as I want to break out and do something fantastic, routine feels comfortable. Even if it's a routine I hate, it's a known entity. As I've gotten older, the routines I've forged out of financial and health necessity have started to turn into ruts. It's a lot harder to change a position you've been in for a decade, than it is to upend just a year long venture.
What would I do if I knew I'd succeed?
This question struck me. Would I be doing exactly what I was doing now if I knew I couldn't fail? Nope. Not a chance. I work in retail. With no benefits. And no hope of promotion unless I'd agree to a 50 hour work week, and following rules I don't agree with. I don't know of anyone who'd be doing that.
But it's hard to go from someone who is stuck in a rut to taking chances on dreams that seem monumentally huge. It's damn difficult to put yourself out there to someone who might *gasp* say, "No."
That's why I started with some baby steps.
There's a technique I've talked about previously called "Thought Ladder" that brought me to a way to use this idea of shooting for the stars in my every day life.
My end goal is to think big enough and have enough confidence in myself and my abilities to ask "What would I do if I knew I'd succeed?" and have the perfect answer. Frankly, I don't have an answer yet. But I'm working on it. Let me show you what path I've started on to get myself to the big dreams.
1. It wouldn't hurt if I tried this.
Not even a question, but go with me here. Many of the things I want to go for and step out of my comfort zone for, send my mind on a world-ending spiral. So taking a step back and reminding myself that most of the things I can take a chance on won't change my current situation at all, or will only result in a "no" or an opportunity I still have the choice to take or not take, puts my brain at ease.
2. What great things could happen if I tried this instead?
We've moved up to a question. See? Progress. Asking myself what good things would happen instead of just a general "What if?" sets me up for a positive mindset that I'm going for. And using "could", allows me to let my brain still cling to the fact that the good might not happen, but makes me realize it's a possibility.
3. What's the best outcome in this instance? And what would be the minimum I want to proceed with the project?
Now we're getting somewhere. Here's the tricky part. Sometimes the best outcome I've pictured in my head is smaller than what happens. I'm a "realist" sure, some say pessimist, but they don't understand me. ;) When I go over exactly what I think the best outcome is, I learn that sometimes I'm wrong in the best way. Sometimes I don't hit the goals I set, but there is still something worth going for. Which is what the second part of this query is about. If I get something good out of the venture, what is the bare bones I need to move forward. In the writing world especially, this could be a contract. Best case? A hefty advance. Minimum requirement? A solid contract with an end date and an exit clause.
4. What would I do if I knew I'd succeed?
We've made it! This is where I'm trying to get to with every part of my day. What would I do if I had the option of doing whatever I wanted with my life? And how would the action I'm taking at this very moment benefit that? What would I do if I knew I had the secret sauce and whatever I touched would turn gold?
Me? I'd be promoting. I'd be querying. I'd be putting myself out at book signings. I'd be writing.
Taking my own advice is damn hard sometimes. And I get discouraged. But it's worth taking a shot. Let's walk through a very recent example of this practice I had with #CarinaPitch. I've been intrigued by Carina as a publisher for quite some time, and I have a project I've been fiddling with for far longer than I should be. (AKA, it should be done by now.) Carina Pitch is a twitter contest where you attempt to entice an editor at Carina with your pitch in tweet form.
I started out at Step 1. It wouldn't hurt if I threw out a tweet for the pitch. They're accepting proposals, so I'm well within the rules to toss out a tweet for my WIP. This contest is good elevator pitch practice, and exercises my logline skills. I should try this.
Step 2. By doing this I could gain name recognition with the editors at the publisher I've got my sights set on. I can familiarize myself with their submission process, and if I were to get a request, I have a chance at getting excellent feed back about what they're looking for.
Step 3. The best outcome would be getting a request or two. I could get a deadline I desperately need, and get feedback about the project from industry professionals. The minimum benefit would be practice tightening my words, finding my hook, and reaching out to some of my contacts for feedback. When I laid this out, there was no good reason not to give it a shot.
Step 4. If I knew I'd succeed, I'd write out a second tweet by myself for the project (we were allowed two per the rules), and go for it. If I knew I'd succeed, I'd submit the best work I can do, and gain the attention of the editorial director and my editor of choice. I'd submit my proposal and I'd sign a contract I am excited to put my name on.
I got three requests. One of them from the editorial director herself. I pulled a couple of my buddies into my process for one of the tweets, taking time to work it down to the best possible verbiage. The other tweet, I gave myself the freedom to knock it out and have fun. Both got requested.
Did I think any of that would happen? NOPE. But now I'm working out my submission, and getting some seriously excellent help from some friends. I'm also doing something I probably wouldn't be doing unless I'd had the audacity to ask myself, "What would I do if I knew I'd succeed?"