Every day I meet people who are living life to make sure they don’t mess up. Get better grades. Don’t fail that test. Don’t make the wrong move as a friend, employee, romantic partner, or business owner.
Living in fear of making a mistake is theft of happiness, fulfillment, and success.
It’s like Irish tap dancing. In Irish tap dancing competitions, you start with a 100% score. Every tap that is off time or missed you lose points from your 100% score. Imagine living life like this: always trying to not screw up. It’s the opposite of American tap dancing where you are judged based not on how you mess up but how well you do—your form, style, beats, and creativity.
Living in fear doesn’t work. You’ll never be good enough, strong enough, successful enough. The results are utterly destructive because you spend your entire day trying to stay between the lines, dreading that you might mess up. It is the killer of creativity, the enemy of calculated risk, a complete energy detractor leaving you with nothing but a brain immersed in negativity because you are always trying to avoid “bad things.”
Going into the unknown can be intimidating, but at some point, you have to jump!
So, here’s three things to keep in mind if you want to take the plunge:
1. Do things afraid.
You can’t let fear control you. Get angry or run from fear, and it won’t help. Face fear.
When I got married at age 21, I felt like a baby trying to drive a car. My wife got pregnant on our honeymoon, and we had four kids in just over four years. We took a risk marrying before either one of us knew what the heck we were doing.
Like getting married early and having kids, you may never feel like you’re ever ready. Take the plunge or you’ll never get to play in the pool.
Some days I will ask myself, What am I going to do today that makes me afraid? Maybe you can do something as small as taking a new way home from work or as intense as launching a new product that’s so novel you have no idea if the world is going to love it.
In my day to day, if I hold back and let fear control me, failure would be a certainty—not just a possibility. If a gymnast doesn’t go all-out when they jump, laying their body on the line, they will fall and are, in fact, more likely to hurt themselves. If you seize up in the pool, you’ll drown. You’re already in the water.
2. Let Yourself Make Mistakes.
If you aren’t making mistakes, then you aren’t living. Anyone whose life mission is to live as safely as possible is missing out on life itself. Leaders make mistakes. Entrepreneurs make mistakes. Anyone who has accomplished anything in this life worth noting has made thousands of mistakes before they reached their achievements.
KK and I almost divorced 10 years into our marriage. I made mistakes. But looking back, it was one of the most powerful times in my life because of the things I learned and will forever hold with me. And they allow me to help people around the world as they run into their own struggles in marriage and relationships.
Putting my mind, heart, and body on the line is how I repaired my marriage. It’s how I built a business. I even have to keep this in mind when performing hobbies like tap dancing. Not “going for it” wouldn’t get me anywhere.
Life and business aren’t like Irish tap dancing. They aren't chess, where you start from 100 and take your opponent’s pieces. Even if it were, it's okay to let some pieces get taken. But, I consider it more like the Chinese game Go. You and the other player start with an empty board and take territory. You build.
Notice how I say “building” for both business and life? That’s what you do—start from zero and continue to evolve.
3. Don’t live to please people. Live to love people.
I’ll never forget talking to a friend just a month away from his wedding. We sat down to an exotic dinner in NYC. I’ll never forget him saying, “My job is to make her happy.” I couldn’t help but add my ten cents.
“Taru,” I said. “You can never make your wife happy.” There were two other people at the dinner table, and it grew awkwardly quiet. So, I continued, “No human on earth would qualify for that job: make me happy. It’s impossible. It will put an immense amount of pressure on you and create a ridiculous amount of codependency in your marriage.”
He looked at me and nodded slowly. Taru spent his entire life up to this moment believing a successful marriage depends on one's ability to make the other partner happy.
“However,” I continued. “What you can do is love her.”
The difference between loving someone and trying to make someone happy is when you try to make them happy, it usually comes from a place of need, not a place of strength and peace. It creates an unhealthy dependence on each other that can eventually rip you apart. But when you love someone, you don’t love them for a happy heart but from a happy heart. This means sometimes you will say and do things that they might disagree with. And that is because you are operating out of love and conviction.
A few years ago, when my wife and I were struggling in our marriage and finances, I decided to drive for Lyft. My wife didn’t agree. She thought it was too much. I listened to her advice, looked at our situation, and was still convinced that this was the very best next step so that we could climb out of our financial pit.
The stress that finances were putting on our marriage was not worth it anymore. Even if that meant I had to make a decision against her wishes.
She resisted it and for understandable reasons. I was already working all day. What would this mean if I’m working another 2-5 hours a day and on weekends too? It made me question my own motives constantly.
While I listened closely and openly to her reasons, I didn’t allow her approval to be the final determiner of my decision. I decided to drive for Lyft because I knew it was the best thing to do for her and our young children.
Back then, Lyft had this thing where you fist bump your passenger as they get into the car. On the day that Lyft approved my application, I told my wife not knowing how she would react. To my delight, she reached out and fist-bumped me with a smile.
KK respected me because I made a decision out of love—not out of trying to make sure she agrees with everything I do. Of course, there are many times she will have a different opinion and persuade me to take a different path. But when you know in your heart that you need to do something without the approval of someone you deeply care about, make the decision.
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