by Jennifer Wright Cook
Are you afraid of failing?
I am the mid-career, middle-aged leader of a mid-sized, mid-career arts service organization.
I am afraid of failing.
I do many things to protect myself and my organization from failing.
Some of these things are super strategic and 100% in line with how I want to be in the world.
Some of these things are less than 100% in line with how I want to be in the world. For instance…
I try not to piss of funders. I hold my tongue. I go to events when I am too tired but there is someone there I have to schmooze. I go after grants that aren’t totally appropriate to our mission. I underbid our work because maybe that will make our bid more competitive. I squeeze general operating money from every project and every nook and cranny.
Where there is money, there is power. I am afraid of not having power. I am afraid of being on the outs.
But I can afford to fail. Here is some full disclosure:
I have a salary and health insurance. My partner makes more money than I do. My parents are healthy. I own my apartment. I have no education debt. I have no kids. I will inherit some money. I have an IRA.
I have financial stability and familial resilience that can protect me from falling off the cliff.
Still, I am afraid of failing.
Here’s the rub: I am beginning to think that the ways I protect myself and my organization from failing actually hurt me and us in the long run.
They hurt us because we just keep it all status quo, humming along, everything’s fine and dandy. We aren’t honest about what’s not working. So no one ever really knows the truth. We stagnate.
We never really have enough. Not enough time or money. Everything is under-resourced.
We get some things done but never really as bold or big or transformative as we hope. Good enough, but not HUGE. Not unbelievably forceful pushy radically HUGE.
The longer I am in this non-profit arts business, the longer that an organization exists, the harder it seems to push against these fears. Maybe because I/we have more to lose now. Maybe because no one wants to be the one that pulls the plug.
But we all have something to lose, always. So maybe it’s more about our perspective, or our relationship to losing, or failure, or gain.
What would YOU do if you weren’t afraid of failing?
What would YOU do if we were unabashedly fearless?