You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. This is a common discussion at our house before my kids’ basketball and soccer games. As mothers, it comes naturally to us to cheer our children on and encourage them to take the shot, take the chance, shoot. We build our kids up, we encourage them to try new things. We support and reassure them to give it a go. They will improve with every shot they take. We coach them – the more shots you take, the more you will eventually make.
When it comes to our own passions and dreams, we often tell ourselves that we don’t have the time to take the shot. We’re too busy – we have everyone else to care for. We have to do All.The.Things. We should be happy and content with the way things are. We let the fear of failure prevent us from ever getting started. We’ve let the world get to us and shape our thoughts and identity from the outside in, instead of the inside out.
Taking the shot comes with greater risks as an adult. What will other people think? What if it doesn’t work out the way we are imagining? We think and think and overthink until we’ve thought our way out of taking the shot. We tell ourselves a lot of stories that hold us back. Time passes, we stay busy. Days pass, months pass, then years pass us by. Our truest, deepest aspirations are now in the rearview mirror.
A 2018 study on the regrets of the dying by S. Davidai and T. Gilovich called The Ideal Road Not Taken[i], found that people who were at the end stage of their life were most likely to have ideal-related regrets, such as failing to follow their dreams and live up to their full potential. Bronnie Ware wrote in her book, “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying”[ii] that “When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.”
In an article written by A. Pawlowski for TODAY[iii], the 2018 study by Davidai and Gilovich is mentioned. Pawlowski notes, “These ‘ideal-related regrets’ – like settling for a stable career instead of following a passion, marrying a “safe” partner instead of pursuing a truly special love interest, never opening a business or traveling around the world – were more painful than regrets about not living up to responsibilities.”
Have you ever let fear hold you back from chasing a dream? If you are like many women, you have the practical realities of your day-to-day life and then you have your wildest dreams and goals. Sometimes it’s difficult to verbalize your deepest aspirations for fear they sound too bold, too different, too “out there”, or too much.
Perhaps you get in your own way. Fear, anxiety, negative self-talk, perfectionism, thinking that there will be a better time at some arbitrary point in the future to begin. You get yourself caught in a circular reference that leads to inertia.
Women tend to get caught in a cycle of telling themselves that everything is good enough right now. Perhaps you even have people in your life that tell you, “you’re never happy, you always seem to want more”, confusing your goals and dreams with a lack of contentment. You can be content and even extremely grateful for your life “as is”, and still have big dreams and lofty goals. We tend to put off our deepest desires telling ourselves, “I’ll pursue that when the kids are older, when I have more time.”
However, some of the most inspiring women I know take leaps. They set big goals and then take daily action to achieve them, even if the goal seems out of reach or too big. Dreams are not realized in the safety net of comfort zones. We could fail because we tried and it didn’t work out the way we envisioned or we could fail because we never tried. Which would be worse?
Over the last 20 years in leadership positions, I’ve worked with many inspiring people. I recall a CEO I worked with many years ago using this mantra – “perfect is the enemy of good”. I heard this mantra repeated often and in many situations. The perfectionist in me used to think, well that’s just completely crazy. Why would you want to set the bar lower than it needs to be? Why would you want to immediately exclude perfect from the conversation?
Now 20 years later, I see clearly the reason you want to exclude perfect from the conversation – because it prevents taking the shot. It prevents even getting started. Perfectionism prevents the learning cycle. It instills a fear to try. Perfect is an unattainable goal – it’s out of reach. However, good (even really, really good) is within reach for everyone. Aiming for good empowers imperfect action to be taken. Aiming for good sparks movement, progress, forward motion, action.
Another wise CEO would say – Do something, even if it’s wrong. Just do something. What this really means is – do it wrong first, learn, figure it out, try again, repeat. Repeat until you start getting it right. Commit to taking imperfect action. Funny, it’s the same message we tell our kids when aiming for the basket or the net.
We often try to bring the best version of ourselves to parenting our children. We coach our kids to follow this cycle – take the shot, if you miss it, figure out what you could do better, repeat. Keep repeating until you find the winning formula for making a good percentage of the shots you take. If you never try, your probability is 0%. If you at least try, that probability immediately goes up with the first shot, even if just by the odds. The chances of making the shot further increase because you’re giving yourself the opportunity to figure out what you need to work on. Missing the shot simply provides a learning opportunity to improve your odds for the next one. The more often you miss, the more learning you do, the more progress you make, until eventually you start making the shots.
What are your dreams? What are your goals? What do you lie awake thinking about at night? What do you want to accomplish? What would you do for free if you could? What would make you jump out of bed in the morning with excitement to start your day? What is holding you back from starting?
Here is the truth. I’ve been in my own way preventing action on my biggest goals for far too long. I’ve let the daily realities of the (quite literally) insane pace of my life keep my deepest aspirations on the back burner. I own that. Now I know better, so I will do better.
I’ve summarized this memo to myself, and to you. (Repeating to myself, as I hit publish.)
Post this memo where you can see it often.
- Meet yourself where you are. Acknowledge it and own it.
- Get out of your head where you overthink everything and sink into your soul instead. That is where your fire will be ignited to start moving forward.
- Commit to taking daily imperfect action.
- Drop perfectionism, it does nothing to serve you.
- Don’t worry about what other people think – they will not be there with you at the end of your life when reflecting on your biggest regrets.
- Get out of your own way and take the shot. You will make a decent percentage of your shots just from trying.
- Work every day to improve and you will eventually reach the goal.
- Learn to appreciate the process, not just the finish line.
- Surround yourself with people who believe in you. They will remind you to keep taking the shot when you miss the first few.
- Your mistakes are not reasons to quit – they will fuel your improvement and your progress.
What’s worse – the fear of missing the shot, or the regret of never taking it? We know the answer to this question. Just begin.
Girl, I know you’re busy. But the real question is – what will you do with this one wild and precious life?
To read the publications referenced in this article:
[i] Davidai, S., & Gilovich, T. (2018). The ideal road not taken: The self-discrepancies involved in people’s most enduring regrets. Emotion, 18(3), 439–452. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000326
[ii]Ware, B. (2019). The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. Hay House, Inc.
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