Suppose I were to give you a key ring with a hundred keys, and I were to tell you that one of these keys will unlock it, this door we’re imagining opening in onto all you want to be, as a player. How many of the keys would you be willing to try?

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

If there is a key that will unlock your true potential and unleash your gift to the world, would you use it? Of course, anyone with common sense would try to. But what if it came at a cost? What if, in order to unlock it, first you have to experience failure, not just once, not twice, but most of the time?

Would you still want to open it?

Failure is an option

Humans are driven to avoid loss as much as possible. And so, many of us would not even dare try to open the lock. We feel the loss of a failed attempt more than the gain we receive if we succeed. And if it means we can fail 99 times out of a hundred, then the idea of opening the box seem even more farfetched.

In addition, there is a popular aphorism that:

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

We tell ourselves that what we have is enough. Our present situation, our skills, our gains so far are much more valuable than what is beyond that lock. Is this unknown potential even better than what we have right now? Why even risk it?

Perhaps we are just afraid of the consequences of trying? This fear of failure binds us to inaction. There is no guarantee of success, so why bother? Others may laugh at us as we look like fools while fumbling through our efforts unlocking the box. Are you concerned of what others may think? Are you afraid to write, fearing ridicule for your initial, mediocre work?

Or maybe we are afraid that we will succeed? Success brings with it a host of other, unknown problems. We would rather be dealing with the problems we have right now than possibly other types of problems in the future. The devil you know vs the devil you don’t.

Perfection is the enemy

When asked the question, Rader, a character in the book Infinite Jest replied:

‘Well I’d try every darn one,’ Rader tells Lyle.

To which Lyle replied:

Then you are willing to make mistakes, you see. You are saying you will accept 99% error. The paralyzed perfectionist you say you are would stand there before that door. Jingling the keys. Afraid to try the first key.

Even though we don’t want to admit it, we are more like Rader than the other way around. Instead of opening the lock, we hesitate. We jingle the keys, squirming with indecision.

Keep moving. John Maxwell said it best: sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. There is no wasted effort even in failure. Because in failure, the path becomes clearer.

Photo by Jouwen Wang on Unsplash

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