Crushing My Fear Of Failure

by Ryan McKeen

I wrote and published this post on August 5, 2009 and titled it “Overcoming My Fear of Failure“.  In the year since the post, I’ve added “marathoner” to my life resume.  This year, I’m going to run the Hartford Half Marathon again. This October, I’ll walk to the starting line, a changed man both physically and mentally having completed 2 other half marathons and a full marathon. When I lace up, I’ll be seeking a sub 2 hour half this year (a full 18 minutes faster than my time last year).

A lawyer picks up the fear of failure when he signs up for the LSAT. It comes in the LSAT testing materials. Somewhere, there’s a packet that’s addressed to a young lawyer’s ego.  The author of the packet pulls no punches. The memo is one line and reads as follows:

Fail and you’re dead.

The memo is generally placed right before the logic games section.

Since the moment I set foot in law school I was consumed by fear. The fear that I would fail out of school. The fear of mid-terms. The fear of my contracts professor. The fear of finals.

This Sticker Is Framed On My Desk
This Sticker Is Framed On My Desk

The fear of failure continues after the first year of law school. The fear of not making a journal or a moot court team. The fear of not getting a summer clerkship.

After law school it’s the fear of failing the bar. And the fear of not getting a job.

The fear of failure is the most powerful fear of all. It’s so powerful that it makes you work harder.

I recently realized that I’ve held myself back because I so greatly fear failing.

For a number of years, I’ve told friends that one of my goals is to run the Hartford Half Marathon. You see, I’m not a very good runner. The idea of me finishing a half-marathon is absurd. I was one of those kids in middle school who had to walk the mile run.

I’ve done a 10k and several 5ks in my life.  I usually finish about 400 out of 600 runners. My goal is always simple: to finish. I enjoy finishing races because it gives me a sense of pride.

This past spring, I realized that I was as out of shape as I’ve ever been.

In June I started a couch to 5k program on my iPod. The program is designed for someone who isn’t active to run a 5k in 9 weeks. First you start walking and then you gradually start running more and more. At the time, it seemed like a manageable way for me to get back in shape. I had a program and a goal (to run a 5k).

For about a month, I kicked around the idea of registering for the half marathon. I read internet sites about training and even bought a book. The lawyer in me won’t allow me to do anything without first buying a book.

On more than one occassion, I filled out the registration form online and never hit send.

Then one day I got a shirt in the mail.

The shirt reads: “Why Not Us?”

I purchased the shirt at an auction for Curt’s Pitch for ALS. The shirts were originally made by Curt Schilling at the start of the 2004 playoffs for the Red Sox.

The shirt brought a smile to my face. Anything that reminds me of October of 2004 brings a smile to my face.

I sat there with my half marathon book and thought “Why Not Me?”

The answer: I was scared of letting myself fail. What if I signed up and didn’t finish? What if I got injured while training? I was letting my fear getting in the way of my goals.

Why Not Me?

I took the risk and registered.

Fear is part of the DNA of lawyers. To one degree or another we are paid pessimists. We’re trained to think of all that can go wrong with anything and that’s not a bad thing.

The moment I decided to register was the moment that I stopped fearing the race. Fear is not a problem. The problem arises when we can’t turn that fear switch off.

In the words of Curt Schilling, this October, “It’s on…

What’s holding you back?