Excellent?

by CarlD

“I’m here to tell you that the fear of failure is the engine that has driven me throughout my entire life. It flies in the faces of all these sports psychologists who say you have to let go of your fears to be successful and that negative thoughts will diminish performance. But not wanting to disappoint my parents, and later my coaches, teammates and fans, is what pushed me to be successful … The reason nobody caught me from behind is because I ran scared. People are always surprised how insecure I was. But I was always in search of that perfect game, and I never got it. Even if I caught 10 of 12 passes, or two or three touchdowns in the Super Bowl, I would dwell on the one pass I dropped … If I have one single regret about my career standing here today, it’s that I never took the time to enjoy it.” — Jerry Rice, in his Hall of Fame speech Saturday night.

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9 Comments to “Excellent?”

  1. I had been discussing ‘fear of success’ today. I first heard it as a child, didn’t know what they were talking about. I am so lazy that I can’t tell the difference between fear of failure and fear of success. I do the ‘success part’ when it will look too ridiculous to ‘keep failing’. Failing is more relaxing, so I always enjoy my career, and like it when it’s semi-inert, and just going by like a dream. I used to think about pleasing my parents and family in general, but I keep that to a minimum by now. Has an interesting effect, though, and it might be how you find the successes in the areas you want it most, I mean to have this kind of overly-leisured attitude about things (that sounds more boastful than it is: You give up a lot of things that are considered basic and valuable to live like I do). I don’t know. I think, looking back at this age, I see that I was really only afraid of success when it was something I really didn’t want to get stuck in. When it’s something I’m almost organically involved with, I don’t even think about success or failure, I just do it. Or not, for periods. I think I don’t think about the activity(ies) as being governed by concepts of success or failure as much as I used to, I just think of them as whether I’m doing them or not (that’s not very clear, but I can’t get it quite right. But I also mean that I stopped doing a number of things, because whether I ‘succeeded’ at them or not was the only thing of importance, it was more important than the experience of the activity itself. That’s changed. I feel fortunate most of the time, but not all.)

  2. Fear transformed into focus contributes to success. Fear expressed as paralysis is a recipe for failure. I wonder what fear experienced by a hall-of-fame star has to do with fear experienced by more ordinary folks.

  3. Hi Slawk – I choose to interpret your remark as praising my post… thank you!

    QB, I think you’re describing ‘the zone’, that being-in-the-moment where one’s whole focus is on the task at hand. It’s an ideal of mine rarely achieved, but even without it I try to be mindful of what needs doing.

    John, I play tennis with those guys. White suburbia is chock full of them, men and women. They are driven, insecure and unpleasant to be around (as Rice is), seem to be completely lacking in what I would consider a healthy sense of balance and perspective, but they do extract the maximum effect (and affect) out of their meager talents.

  4. Carl, I was thinking more of ordinary folks like those looking for jobs in today’s lousy job market. I recall the horrible ambivalence that had me dithering for months when I didn’t get tenure. But also the moment when fear sharpened, I took some risks, and I wound up doing things I had never planned or expected to do.

  5. Any academic’s worst nightmare. The drug companies have a name for that horrible ambivalence and would like to sell you a pill for it: “depression.” In the old days though we might have called it a funk and prescribed a kick in the ass, which fear will do for ya!

    As you know I’m personally very interested in motivation, although not enough to study it systematically as one of my friends does (ironically, he’s been stalling on finishing his dissertation for years). But I was powerfully struck by Antonio Damasio’s work on the relationship of reason and emotion. In studying people with brain ‘insults’ that impair their emotional response but leave their reasoning intact, he found that they were able to think of many reasons to do one thing or another, but were unable to care enough to actually do any of them. So motivation comes from emotions, and fear is certainly a strong one, as the anxious suburban middle class proves every day. But it can also be paralyzing, just as you say and as I myself know well, so I’d be interested to understand better the conditions under which it works in these two apparently contradictory ways.

  6. ‘the zone’, that being-in-the-moment where one’s whole focus is on the task at hand. It’s an ideal of mine rarely achieved, but even without it I try to be mindful of what needs doing.

    That’s right, and of course you can’t sustain it in its most heightened state. But the second part, ‘even without it, I try to be mindful…’etc., is the professsional part, often described as the ‘craftsman’ that goes on about the work, because there’s not always the time to wait on the inspiration, as it were. I don’t think that’s sustainable either, unless you get the ‘high’ at certain frequent-enough points, though. Otherwise, serious dissatisfaction sets in. That’s another sensation, which includes sensations of both pain and pleasure, failure and success, and it’s necessary to know how to do it, or one does go down the drain. I don’t see much pleasure in success that comes from honours proffered, although they’re useful. It’s the pleasure itself, the intensity of it, that feels like success to me. Although the other kind I agree is important, like the satisfaction of paying one’s bills, and I’ve been concentrating on these simpler, more ordinary things too. It’s possible to see those as exotic too, and some personalities then can find ‘good citizen responsibilities’ more attractive to take care of if they are made interesting. I have to do this, due to all of my intrinsic abnormalities. I used to like to talk to all sorts of different IRS people or ‘customer fulfillment people’ at banks just to work out a tiny detail, although I stopped short of asking them for photographs of their children.

  7. oh dead voles where are you?

  8. Hi Jacob! Just taking an end-of-summer, beginning-of-school, general-mental-health break. Hope to be back to posting more regularly soon.

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