nbcPhotographer: Sarah Denison

Failure is something I have tried to avoid at all costs in my life. You don’t get through to a PhD without some kind of perfectionist streak running through you somewhere.

Maybe it’s universal law, maybe it’s just a coincidence – but I think the things we run away from always find a way to show up in our life. Offering us a chance to slay our demons and advance to the next round.

Failure is a demon that I have been dodging for a while. But this week, he caught up to me.

I have been, for lack of a better metaphor, thrown in the deep end with a certain task at work. I feel as though I need a little more training, but my manager has kindly said – sink or swim, if you’re not ready then we will find out you’re not ready.

Instantly, I felt the anxiety pulse through my body. But I don’t sink!! I don’t do sinking!!! I have to swim butterfly with elegance and grace!!! If you make me do this, there is a 50% chance I will sink and never surface….in front of my colleagues!!

That night I struggled to sleep. I had dreams about it. I woke up the next morning, got coffee and walked along the beach. Sink or swim.

I realised this experience was a gift. It’s a chance for me to practice feeling the fear of failure. To drag it to the surface instead of burying it deep behind my kidney where it is probably forming a tumor.

We desire confidence, but confidence is not handed to us. We don’t gain true confidence in ourselves by always being exceptional. We develop it as a result of overcoming obstacles. Unfortunately, we have to earn our stripes.

In this case, the most loving thing to do for myself is to give it a go – with the knowledge that I could fuck it up. The outcome does not matter, for me personally the growth will come from actually trying something and accepting that I may not excel. The growth comes from the possibility that I may disappoint someone.

Confidence is cultivated by doing it anyway. It takes a certain level of self-esteem to sail head-first into unknown seas. It takes a certain level of self-esteem to handle disappointing people. But I think it is a hugely important lesson to learn – something that will make us exceptional.

We will always disappoint others. We are human. It’s uncomfortable, but to find the strength inside to cope with this makes us unstoppable. It’s the gateway to everything we want.

Right, I’m off to buy a snorkel. If I’m going to sink – I’m sure as hell going to enjoy the view of the ocean floor.

Much love xx

Currently listening to: Ed Sheeran – Runaway

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Hi, I’m Katie. I am a kiwi neuroscientist with a love for consuming and creating content. This site is where I share my personal thoughts and the thoughts of incredible minds from around the world. PhD in Neuroscience, University of Otago.

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