The Fear of Doing Wrong

choicesAs a teenager, my answer to most questions was the same: “I don’t know.” What do you want to order off the menu? I don’t know. What do you want to do today? I don’t know. How was your day? I don’t know. Do you like this shirt? I don’t know. It was a frustrating response to my parents, to myself, and to anyone unfortunate enough to accompany me to a restaurant or store. In my defense, in my mind I really didn’t know.

Did I want to order a chile relleno or a cheese enchilada? Well, I didn’t know. I always ordered the cheese enchilada. It was safe. I knew that I’d enjoy it. It was relatively inexpensive. But I’d heard such great things about the chile rellenos. They were allegedly quite delicious. They had meat. They came with rice and beans. But it also cost a little bit more. And what if I didn’t like it?I didn’t know which was the better choice. And in my mind, there must have been a “best choice”.  And in my mind, to choose anything but the “best choice” was to choose the wrong thing. And I couldn’t let myself choose wrong. So I felt stuck. I had to make a decision. I didn’t know enough to guarantee that my choice would be “right”. So I froze. Not intentionally. Not consciously. But I froze.

I felt that I couldn’t risk making a wrong decision, so I made no decision at all. If I said “I don’t know” for long enough, someone would get impatient and either choose for me or skip over me. Either way, I was safe. I didn’t have to choose wrong or be responsible for a wrong choice.As you can imagine, this wasn’t an especially effective way of being. Luckily, I didn’t stay that way forever. I learned that most decisions do not have right and wrong options. They simply have options. It often doesn’t matter what I choose. Most of the decisions I make have multiple right answers. I can order just about anything off the menu. And even if I end up with a dish I don’t like as much as another, then I learn that I prefer the other. Choices are excellent teachers.

I’ve noticed that when I abdicate my agency and avoid making my own choices, then I find that I am not learning and I am not progressing. I instead end up feeling unsatisfied and frustrated with myself.I recognized this fear of doing wrong in me several years ago. I found that it motivated me more than my desire to do right. And I didn’t like that. So I have been working on changing that. My new mantra is: “fail more, but not by default”. I don’t try to fail, but I am trying to give myself the courage to try new or hard things, even though there is the possibility of making mistakes. Mistakes aren’t bad. They are part of learning.

A young child learning to walk trips and falls many times before they succeed. Those stumbles don’t condemn the child or define them as incompetent. It is simply a part of the learning process. So perhaps I will drop the Frisbee a few times playing Ultimate. Perhaps I will embarrass myself a little while presenting a devotional at girls’ camp. Perhaps I will have some errors in my blog post. And perhaps I will order something I don’t like at a restaurant. It is better than not being involved with my friends, or not helping others learn and grow, or not raising a voice on things I believe, or not having something to eat. Exercising the gift of choice is a blessing, not a curse. And so if I need to fail, I am not going to do so by default, and I am going to learn and grow from the experience.

And just for the record, if you ever go to Matta’s Mexican Grill in Mesa, Arizona, you should try the chile rellenos sometime. I’m glad that I eventually did.