The other day a couple of friends and I planned an outing to the trampoline park. It was my first time and all I knew to expect was a lot of bouncing and possibly a few bruises from said bouncing.
It was a week night and when we arrived I was surprised to see a group of working adult types in sports attire getting ready for a gym class inside. Shouldn't these guys be too tired after a day's work to be bouncing around like that?
After signing waiver forms and getting bands on our wrist, we pulled up our extra-grip socks and entered the arena. The gym class had already begun at the side and I was deeply troubled by the way the participants twisted and contorted their bodies in mid-air with such ease.
The few of us went over to a corner that was built like a human bowling alley with rows of long trampolines and a giant landing pad at the end. This would become my training ground for the time being.
As I watched some of the more seasoned members of my group spin and hurl their bodies into front and back flips, I decided that I would master a front flip myself by the end of our session. This proved to be highly challenging.
My first dozen tries or so consisted of me doing cannon balls into the landing pad. It wasn't a pretty sight. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what was holding me back. One of my friends was nice enough to coach me and he demonstrated his front flip. I was getting frustrated with myself at this point and thought: How dare he execute a perfect flip in front of me?
Exhibit A. My friend's back flip
I tried a few more times but whenever I was about to bounce off the end of the trampoline I always stopped in my tracks and awkwardly fell into the landing pad. My friend, who by now was probably only watching over me to make sure I didn't hurt myself, pointed out very accurately: "You're scared."
Of course I was. Have you seen that gymnast in Final Destination? No way did I want to land with my limbs twisted out of shape.
The more I thought about the many possible disastrous scenarios, the worse I performed on the trampoline. It didn't help that there was a countdown to the end of our session and time was running out. I needed to make the jump before stepping off the mat.
When I finally did make the jump and executed a passable front flip, I was over the moon. My friend was first to remark: "You did it!". I beamed.
Exhibit B. My passable front flip
The truth is I wasn't afraid of getting my limbs horribly contorted out of shape. I was afraid of looking stupid. More specifically, I was afraid of failing. Yet the most surprising thing of all is that even in the face of failure, I was able to succeed in a small but significant way.
Perhaps the trick isn't to suppress or remove all fear of failure but instead acknowledge it as a hurdle to leap over. While failure often leaves us feeling all but intimidated and stuck, we can easily sidestep it by first getting over ourselves and take the outcome as a learning opportunity, whatever it might be.
That night I left the trampoline park with a spring in my step. It could have partly been because of the slight bruising on my shins but probably had more to do with having succeeded at a beginner's front flip.