Fear of Failing

We hate to fail so much that we go to any lengths to avoid it.  Even when that means holding back our potential, leaving ideas unexplored and not trusting our inner voice.  We forget that failure is how we learn.  Just watch your average baby learning to walk and you can see that.  The desire to try new things and work at them until we get them right is hardwired into our biology, and yet we spend so much of our time trying to suppress that when we become adults.  Would you tell a child learning to ride a bike that they should never expect to fall?

There is an old adage that you should take action now and apologize later, often paraphrased as asking forgiveness instead of waiting for permission. I take issue with the words apologize and forgiveness, because they imply that if you take a risk and fail, that you should somehow be sorry for what you have done.  Maybe you shouldn’t be sorry.  When we fail, it is because we are doing these three things which ultimately are critical to our success:

Connecting the dots
Seeing the bigger picture and pattern within it is key to understanding a larger need that your design should meet.  If you myopically solve the small problem right in front of you, your solution is like to create more problems through unintended consequences or quickly become obsolete. Reaching out beyond the culture of a firm, interacting with non-architects in your community, building social bridges, all lead to opportunities and experiments.  Launching a new venture or bringing that possibility back to your boss can seem scary because it is so experimental.  So can convincing clients to go down an unproven path.  However, seeing relationships between conventionally unrelated elements leads to greater design relevance.

Moving outside of your comfort zone
It’s really easy to do what others expect of you.  It’s really hard to go beyond and do what you expect of you.  You may have buried your own goals and aspirations so deeply after years of working that you can’t even remember them anymore.  So, while you complain about the slow death of your creative spirit, you also pull up your chair to the comfy fire that is the boundaries of other people’s expectations.  Being willing to take a step back and challenge conventional assumptions is the only path to innovation.  Having the courage to challenge yourself and make a bold move is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time because you just don’t know what will happen.  People with inquiring minds look at a situation but are not blinded by all of the rules that govern that situation  By seeing the world differently and asking they arrive at ways of defining a problem that no one else considered.

Taking a stand
When something really matters to you, you want to be an advocate for it.  Whether that is a common goal you share with a client or pro-bono work you wish to do to help your community or the planet.  You might be pretty good at this outside of the office, but what would happen if you incorporated these same passions and beliefs into your work?  Would it make you more passionate?  Define you as an architect more fully? Attract some really great clients?

You didn’t become an architect to slog away at mediocre tasks fixated on minimum standards and  simply meeting expectations.  The world needs you to innovate and soar and give them great spaces that support the way we live work and play.  In fact, when you look at risk taking from this perspective there is no such thing as a failure, only a learning experience that brought you to a major career breakthrough.