How I conquered fear of failure

In my working life I spent years refining my professional skill set, which reinforced my confidence,  and helped me get through difficult work projects. Starting new things outside my profession scared me, because I had a fear of failure. Maybe the thought of succeeding was even worse, because then I’d be expected to reproduce the results. Strangely, it took some mental tricks while snowboarding to move past my fears, and become confident enough to trying new things.

I first tried snowboarding with work colleagues a decade ago in a short beginner lesson. It covered information on our gear, how to strap in, skate on one foot, turn, and most importantly how to stop. Moving was frighteningly easy, but stopping was almost impossible for me. There were lots of ungraceful falls, many involving slamming into the snow. I wish someone had told me that enjoying snowboarding, and many other new things things, needed the right gear and expectations to match the level of experience.

On the first trip I gave up after the beginner lesson was over. I was tired of falling over, felt embarrassed, and I walked away from an amazing experience because of my fear of failing. It took me a decade, and a family trip, to persuade me to try snowboarding again. This time I lasted two days, and nearly seriously injured myself on the very first day. By the end of the second day I could ride at a controlled speed, at the base of the bunny slopes. I left the ski field that day excited, and searching online for my own snowboard.

What made the difference? I realized I had to slow everything down, my speed and my own expectations. I was riding an unknown board, which I later found out was designed for advanced riders, and built to perform well at high speed. The board was fun, but I barely knew how to stop, so I’d get nervous and crash whenever I was near another person.

I started the trip determined to ride the green runs, but I quickly realized I needed to master something even easier first. I found a long quiet stretch of snow at the base of the mountain, and spent the whole day hiking up and slowly riding down. It wasn’t worth recording on camera, but that small success boosted my confidence, and suppressed my fear of failing with excitement.

On that trip two specific mental tricks really helped. If I fell, I would take a few seconds to steady myself and then try again. I didn’t give myself more than a few seconds, because I knew I would talk myself out of riding for the rest of the day. The second trick was to always finish the day on a high. That way I could focus on how good the day ended, instead of the helpless moments of picking up speed, not being able to stop, and then crashing into the snow. This kept me going for the whole trip, and made me excited about the next one.

I spent the next two years looking for the right snowboard, reading reviews and searching shops in my area. The board I settled on sold out fast every season, so it took two years to buy my board, bindings, and boots. I could have given up during these two years, or used the cost as an excuse, but I held onto the excitement from the previous trip. I imagined how much more fun I’d have with my own gear, spending time improving my skills, instead of adjusting to a different setup on each snowboarding trip.

The third trip was my best one so far, because I set realistic expectations. I spent one and a half days progressing at my own pace, staying at the base of the slopes, and the beginners area. The mental tricks from the previous trip helped a lot, but I was also encouraged by the other beginners. My wife and son took intermediate ski lessons, so I had time to get used to my gear and tweak different things to suit my riding style. Most importantly, I had time to practice and become confident with the basic, and essential, parts of snowboarding. This time would later make the difference between a great day on the mountain or my gear ending up on Ebay.

The next day was another full day of riding, which I spent with my family. We stuck mostly to the green runs, where I rode with my wife, or raced my speed demon son down the mountain. I was having so much fun that my son ended got bored long before I did.

The little mind tricks helped me conquer my fear of failing, and gave us a memorable family holiday, for the right reasons. My wife loves retelling my snowboarding near death experiences from previous trips, but even she admits my snowboarding skills have improved a lot. It’s great hearing that compliment, and can’t wait to ride again next season. The next trip is almost planned out, and I’m looking forward to tackling longer and more difficult runs.


How I conquered fear of failure

Joe retired in his mid-thirties to spend more time with his young family. He started this blog to share his story, help others plan their path to retirement, and enjoy retired life.

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