Attacking areas where you’re most vulnerable to failure and rejection is an exercise in confidence building. Who gives a damn if you lose a few battles en route to winning the war?
Fear of embarrassment can be debilitating. It causes folks to live a passive, risk free life with little upside of richness and diversity of experience. At it’s extreme and in scientific circles, this condition would be identified as atychiphobia.
A person afflicted with atychiphobia considers the possibility of failure so intense that they choose not to take the risk. Often this person will subconsciously undermine their own efforts so that they no longer have to continue to try. Because effort is proportionate to the achievement of personal goals and fulfillment, this unwillingness to try, that arises from the perceived inequality between the possibilities of success and failure, holds the atychiphobic back from a life of meaning and the realization of potential.
Even without a formal diagnosis, we can be robbed of life’s most fulfilling moments, simply because we hate the idea of the worst possible outcome.
Baseball is life.
I recall standing in the on deck circle at Yankee stadium in the top of a random 9th inning some time between 2000 and 2010 awaiting my opportunity to face Mariano Rivera. I had faced him before, studied his video and essentially addressed the reality in my mind that his cutter was going to embarrass the hell out of me in front of a not insignificant number of rabid Yankee fans. The half inning before, those same fans had informed me that I sucked, reminded me that I’d be meeting Mariano in short order and that I’d be especially overmatched. They were correct. I walked up to the plate and battled my way through the at bat, taking strikes that started at my hip and darted over the heart of the plate and chasing fastballs just up and out of the zone. Maybe I punched out, maybe I got lucky. Either way, I’d fight you if you threatened to remove that experience from my memory.
This isn’t the perfect analogy. I wasn’t going to tell Johnny Oates, Tito Francona or Joe Maddon that I wasn’t going to take that at bat. I didn’t have the same choice that we all do when life presents an opportunity to look like a jackass. I had no choice but to walk into the batter’s box, and I had to do so knowing that I was likely to fail more often than not. Over time, this may have desensitized me to the risk of failure. I learned that a strikeout in one at bat didn’t suggest I was doomed to suck in my next one or any of the ones that would follow. I had experienced the “worst” that could happen and never needed to be paralyzed by that risk.
We will all experience failures and rejections, even outside of our chosen fields. Whether you’re pitching your book idea, pursuing a love interest, applying for college, or building a business, people will say no. Our discomfort with rejection is rooted in our evolutionary past, where being shunned by our tribe meant potential starvation and death. In fact, the instinct to avoid social rejection is so strong that it can actually activate the physical pain receptors in our bodies. From a study published in PNAS:
Here we demonstrate that when rejection is powerfully elicited—by having people who recently experienced an unwanted break-up view a photograph of their ex-partner as they think about being rejected—areas that support the sensory components of physical pain (secondary somatosensory cortex; dorsal posterior insula) become active…Activation in these regions was highly diagnostic of physical pain, with positive predictive values up to 88%. These results give new meaning to the idea that rejection “hurts.” They demonstrate that rejection and physical pain are similar not only in that they are both distressing—they share a common somatosensory representation as well.
Our brains still hit the panic button when we expose ourselves to possible denial by others, even though hearing “no” from a superior won’t mean we’re going to be exiled to the wild now. But just like lifting weights forces our muscles to adapt to the new conditions, we can re-wire our brains as well. Through continually exposing ourselves to situations that force discomfort, where we risk failing or looking less than competent, or hearing someone refuse our requests, we can train ourselves to prefer to take the action step.
The battles are the day to day challenges and moments of perceived risk. They are the incidents that cause anguish and encourage us to quit, or worse, not start. They are the specific at bats. The war encompasses our lives. Our days are enhanced and we are more enriched individually through our riskiest experiences. Seek them out at all costs. Go. Act. Move. Repeat.