i’m taking more risks now
i’m stepping out of line
i’m putting up my fists now
*Note: This is a long one, with very few photos, waxing philosophical here. I don’t blame you if you abandon ship on this post and click the “x” now. No hard feelings.
As my second semester draws to a close in my forestry training, and my first season of field work is about to begin, I’ve entered a state of reflection. When I began to look back that the journey thus far, the first thing that jumped out were all the embarrassing misteps I’ve had. I thought that unfortunate – that the first things that came to my mind were my “failures,” so to speak.
But, this (of course) led me to further introspection (as such things often do). The truth is, for most of my life, my lack of self confidence has been a great Achilles heel of mine. More than that, my fear of failing has greatly driven my life choices – until recently, until this forestry chapter actually. Because, until of late, I had the luxury of only choosing to try things I felt moderately certain I’d be successful at. It was a dangerous sort of luxury. Because, by avoiding things we think we are incapable of doing, we don’t grow stronger in our faith of our own abilities. We don’t really grow at all.
However, when you take a risk by taking a new life/career path that your past background has not prepared you for at all, you are going to often face things that you don’t feel very confident in. For me in forestry, I weekly if not daily meet situations that I am so completely unfamiliar with that I feel quite certain I will make a fool of myself. And I often do. Now, to get to the moral of this topic of “fear of failure”, let me relate some of my “forestry failures,” which (*spoiler*) are actually all faith growers instead.
If you’ve read past posts, you might have heard of my early travails with getting a chainsaw to start. To summarize, I tried and failed dozens of times before I, at last, successfully got the thing to start.
Now, the old version of myself would have tried a few times, failed, and then fled from the thing until the end of time. But, when you start over and go after a new path, you can’t flee from things you fail at. You gave up a lot up to come this way, so you have less to lose. So, I tried and failed several dozen times more instead, and then finally succeeded in starting it. And that has sort of started a trend when I meet failed attempts…
2. Truck Driving
I drive a small compact car. I’m a capable driver…in a compact car. But, driving a tall, long & wide 4-wheel drive pick-up truck is a different sort of animal to tame. During a lab for my wildlife management class, when we went down to the river on campus to check 17 different wood duck boxes, which required we transport a ladder from location to location. Because I was the only student in that lab section employed by the school, I was the only one who could assist in the lab by driving the ladder in a truck to keep us from carrying the ladder instead. I was also the only person in the lab section who had not driven such a truck before in my life.
One particular nest box location required us to drive down to a sand bar to get to it. So, I was asked to drive down a highly eroded sand “road” (if it can be called such) to get the ladder as close as possible, which was fine. Then I was asked to drive in reverse to get out, which was not so fine. In the classic tale of Peter taking his eyes off Christ when walking on water, I lost my faith in myself and my faith in what a 4-wheel drive can do vs. my compact car, and got flustered and then stuck in the sand. My classmates were very encouraging and kindly patient in attempting to coach me into getting myself out, but eventually, after delaying the lab progress sufficiently, my teacher came to see what the delay was, and bailed me out.
I was so ashamed 1) because I slowed down the lab for the entire class, but mostly 2) because it seemed such a weak city girl moment to not be able to maneuver a truck. I wrote an apologetic email to my teacher later that day about this snafu, and his reply I think will be something that might forever be carried with me in my battle to teach myself not to fear failure and to keep faith in myself: “remember, you didn’t have a snafu today, you learned how to not drive in the sand.”
Because, isn’t that true of anything attempted unsuccessfully? You are learning – just learning how to not to do something. Learning how not to do something seems to me as important as learning how to do something. And learning how not to do something is also a victory for me because I did not let my fear of failure keep me from trying.
3. Animal Packing
Animal packing is easily the most challenging class I have ever taken in my life. Throw in calculus. Throw in Czech (the language, yes schools teach that sometimes). Throw in graduate school. This is the most challenging for me personally. The teacher is great, it is just I am not great with horses or with ropes – and nearly 100% of animal packing involves horses and ropes.
To be honest, after the first few meetings, I felt pretty certain that I not only had no future as a packer, but I had no future in passing the final for the course. Let me detail a bit why:
1. Horses are not puppies, and they are not bears, but they do demand respect and caution. You have to be firm and assert dominance in situations with horses. And, I am anything but firm and dominant – ask anyone. And, the horses know it too. There is something called longeing, which is wise to do with your pack animal before saddling them. Essentially, it entails getting them to walk, trot, and lope in a circle around you by using your body positioning. My teacher made it look easy and the students that went before me eventually got the hang of it, but not I. Even though I’d watched my teacher’s technique closely and tried my best to follow his verbal instructions when I was in the ring, I could not get the horse to longe, instead the horse longed me. Seriously, I somehow ended up running around the ring in an attempt to get the horse to do so. It was comical, but it was a packing failure in terms of the exercise’s goal.
2. Knots & hitches are a HUGE part of animal packing. My brain somehow lacks the visual/spatial rotation abilities to learn knots quickly. There is some disconnect between seeing how my teacher worked with the ropes and making my hands replicate the art. In truth, I watch him do it, and it seems like a magic trick, a slight of hand – like watching a balloon animal man make a complex creature with many a twist & snap of the balloon. I am lost within seconds and I just can’t keep up with the pace of the rest of the class in learning the knots. In fact, in one exercise where we were asked to tie a high line (a line tied between two trees to tie horses to), when my teacher came to check on mine, and went to tighten one side by leaning all his body weight and pulling on one end, the other end came undone and he fell flat on his back. He was not badly injured, but he did lay there for a little while to recover. Maybe 30 minutes later, we were asked to tie our horses to metal rings to begin saddling them (which requires a specific sort of quick-release knot). My horse got spooked, pulled back, and since I had incorrectly tied the required knot, the horse broke the lead rope to free itself from the ring.
Now, I have studied at home (in the hopes of never again causing anyone to fall or being the cause of a broken rope), watching Youtube videos of hitches and knots and practicing on a small piece of rope, but the final is tomorrow, and I am just not fast enough to be able to have it down by tomorrow.
So, tomorrow is the first time in my life I will legitimately fail a final. As in not pass. Perhaps my instructor, who knows I am trying and will see I have at least improved in small ways from the beginning, will pass me out of pity, but I really don’t know. So, this might be a dark blemish on my “good grade” record which I’ve always been rather anal about. And, like I said, I had thought about dropping the class, but this would be fleeing from my fear of failure, so I did not. And the truth is, even though I have failed at things each time I’ve gone out to this class, in comical ways most always, I am also learning a lot and learning even more about myself. You don’t always have to be great at something to enjoy it. I am not good at any animal packing task, but I am enjoying the small progress I make each time in learning the skills, even though it is small, and even though I have not made enough progress in time for the final exam tomorrow.
So what am I getting at with all this? I am not over my fear of failure, but I am growing in my faith in myself by not letting this fear keep me from trying things, and not letting my lack of success keep me from trying again…and again…and again, and again, and again.
I share this not because I think everyone needs to read it, but that maybe someone out there does need to read it because they struggle with the same lack of self-confidence. Repeated failures are actually faith growers if you can grow some tough skin and not let your own judgements of yourself get in your way of keeping at something. You fall down and get up and dust yourself off and find you are braver than before.
if you always do
what you’ve always done
then you’ll always be
who you’ve always been