I hate rejection.
I hate not living up to expectations.
I hate failure.
If left up to my fight or flight response, I’d run every time. I will also avoid doing something I really want to do if it means I must do something horribly uncomfortable in order to get there. I may not avoid it completely, but I’ll procrastinate to the eleventh hour, which isn’t a terribly rational thought process when you consider the longer I procrastinate, the less time I have to do the best job I can, which only reinforces the possibility of doing poorly and not getting selected, thereby guaranteeing I miss out on an incredible opportunity now or at some point in the future — a.k.a. the very definition of failure.
I know, I know. I never said my logic was infallible.
I realize this may surprise many of you. For some reason, people see me as plunging lustfully (that one’s for you, Aaron) through life, recklessly grasping for risks at every opportunity. I’m not exactly sure where that misrepresentation originated. I mean, sure, I’m “out there.” I’m gregarious, friendly, certainly loud, willing to be ridiculously transparent on paper, and sometimes even in real life. I laugh a lot. I make friends relatively easily. I’m definitely 100% human (that one’s for you, Dave). I like people. I like talking to them, seeing what makes them tick, and I like the empathy that develops from our interactions. It’s one of the reasons I gravitate to user experience design. It’s that relationship between humans and technology where I feel most comfortable helping others.
Over the last several years, I’ve spent a lot of time presenting at conferences on this very topic. But oh my god, if you only saw me at 11:00pm before a Call for Proposals deadline, then you’d see me for the coward I really am. Because it’s when we get down to the wire that I realize that, like it or not, I have to overcome my fear of rejection if I’m going to get a submission in under the deadline. I’m continually questioning whether I even have anything useful to share with others. After all, who am I? Why do you care what I have to say? And really, can I say it in a way that resonates with you and helps you do a thing that needs doing? And if I can’t, why even put myself in that position?
It’s a scary place, the voices in my head.
I was in this very position Tuesday night. Tuesday was the deadline to submit for Dare Conference USA, and I was paralyzed with fear. I’ve been thinking about this constantly for two weeks straight, ever since discovering they were bringing the conference to the US after three successful years in the UK. I’ve wanted to desperately to be a part of this for years, but I’ve been terrified to submit. Part of it’s that this conference is very different from the types of conferences to which I usually submit; part of it’s admitting that I desperately need to up my presentation skills if I want to go to the next level; and part of it’s knowing that, in order to submit, I had to take a video of myself talking about my talk (presentationception). It’s a terrifying moment, knowing that you have to be stripped of your defenses and excuses in order to act, to improve.
And so I rely on the ticking of the clock to force me into action.
I made the video. 3-5 minutes of shaking in my stylish yet affordable boots (that one’s for you, Buffy), trying not to stumble over my words, trying to remember to look at the camera, trying not to talk with my hands throughout the take. So, so, painful. I hadn’t left time for multiple takes, which was probably just as well. Upload to YouTube and, while it processed in the cloud, I pasted the private URL into the form and hit the submit button at 11:57pm.
It never fails. Once I hit the submit button, I can start to breathe again. The insane voices in my head that are screaming “RUN, FOR GOD’S SAKE, RUN!” suddenly fall away and I can think coherently. Immediately I can think of a number of ways to improve upon this talk (often the same thing that happens as soon as I give a talk on stage), and sanity resumes. I’m trying to work through this, believe it or not. It’s why I’ve moved to having 2-3 talks that I give throughout a year, improving as I give them, knowing the feel of the talk, tweaking when something falls flat in front of an audience. What still evades me is knowing how to structure a talk while I’m building so that it resonates with its audience. And I fully acknowledge that it is this very reason I may well not make it into #dareconf this year. Or perhaps for several years to come. It may be that I have to build on this initial offering, to find the value in my words and my experiences and figure out how to translate that into a submission that they find worth developing. But recognizing that it’s a step I need to take is a start. Recognizing that I can’t always rely on time constraints to move me forward is another step. Getting past the my fear of failure is yet another step.
But daring to fail is, at the very least, a beginning.