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It’s sad to live life on the sidelines

Risk is a scary word. Maybe that’s why many of us choose to do so little outside of our comfort zones. Failure can be embarrassing and sometimes even painful – I won’t sugarcoat the truth – but so can standing on the sidelines. In fact, that can be the cruelest cut of all.

Think about it. How many times have you told yourself that a certain skill or endeavor is for “other people” not you? Be honest, did you really believe this, or was the assessment driven by your own insecurity? Whenever I’ve entertained this ridiculous notion it’s come from fear that I would make an ass of myself when I inevitably failed at something new. In other words, it was easier to dismiss something as being outside my realm than it was to face up to my shortcomings or perceived shortcomings. Nowadays, there’s probably some psycho-babble to describe this fear-driven response. In the 1960’s it was simply called “copping-out.”

The little lies we tell ourselves can be even more pernicious. Some believe that human triumph is mostly preordained and self-generated. This camp says, “Nothing succeeds like success.” If that’s true, then it’s only logical that nothing fails like failure. Sure, success can and does feed off of itself at times. But if we stop trying simply because things haven’t worked out for us in the past, our continued failure is assured. That’s the problem with this sort of dictum. It conveniently forgets that each and every human being is unique. It also ignores the fact that many of the most successful people in the world failed miserably, time and again, before success or any semblance of it came knocking at their door.

Personal fears aside, I wonder how anyone can be content sitting on life’s sidelines. Is it really better to risk nothing and end up with the “would have, should have” albatross of regret on your back?

When I look at the level of hero worship occurring these days, I’m saddened. Sure, not all are equipped to become great ballplayers like basketball’s Michael Jordan, and most of us will never rise to the intellectual level of an Albert Einstein. But does that mean we should become hopelessly awestruck by such people, and stand idly by because we can never hope to hit the same esteemed marks that they did?

A past generation adhered to a different maxim. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” they’d say without a hint of doubt in their voices. This group was every bit as uncertain as any of us, but with this truism acting as a steering force they’d plod on regardless – cognizant that success generally comes to those willing to take risks. Would these hope-for-the-best types fail every so often? You bet. Failure is an integral part of the human experience. But people of this mindset simply wouldn’t allow themselves to become paralyzed by fear. We can all learn from their example.

Through the years I’ve noticed a pattern. The people who are the least worried about looking like jackasses when they fail at something tend to go the farthest in life. Why is this? It’s a numbers game, really. Those who roll the dice by continually putting themselves out there improve their chances of making something stick with each attempt, while those who remain on the margins, safe, sound and irrelevant, create their own failure.

A fitting maxim to lay the groundwork for achievement is “nothing succeeds like trying.” If you don’t believe this, just peruse the biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Alva Edison, Milton S. Hershey, Alexander Graham Bell, Susan B. Anthony, Bill Gates, Col. Harland Sanders, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Isaac Newton, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Winston Churchill, and millions of others who stumbled repeatedly on the path to success.

And be sure to toss two more noteworthy names into the mix: Basketball great Michael Jordan, who was cut from his high school basketball team due to a “lack of talent” and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein, who was expelled from school for being – get ready for it – “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.”

Surprised? Don’t be. But keep this in mind: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” Confucius is responsible for that bit of profundity. Which reminds me, I‘ve always wanted to try my hand at philosophy. Hey, you never know…

-Jeff Bahr

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