Live Like the Abyss is a Feather Bed

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

When I was younger, I saw this quote on a page of one of my dad’s books and became immediately captivated with it. I was fascinated with the question itself, but especially with the idea that there could be some alternate universe in which failure did not exist. I imagined myself jumping off of a cliff with a parachute on my back, speaking at a podium in front of thousands of people, or writing a bestselling book; all confidently and without the option of failure.

A few years ago at school we had to write our personal definition of success. Everyone in the class had a different definition – some were about money, some about happiness, some about fame and recognition. If everyone has a different idea of what success is, then everyone must also have a different idea of what failure is.

If you really think about it, there are an infinite number of ways we can fail at something. Failure wears a million masks: negative judgement, disappointment, and sadness are just a few things that can be associated with failing.

Oftentimes, we are so terrified of encountering one masked version of failure that we cease to do the thing in question. Our society has constructed failure as something so terrifying that if it is an option, we shouldn’t even try to succeed (even if success is also an option). Failure isn’t just present in “big” scenarios, like careers and pursuits of fame; failure is an option in social settings, and in small everyday opportunities that we have.

The thing is, if you never try you’ll never know: and once you overcome your fear of failure and take a leap of faith, you’re more likely to fly than you are to fall.

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all those teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”  – Terence McKenna

If I could only pick one favourite quote, that would be it. I love the thought of hurling oneself into a dark abyss, facing the prospect of failure and fearing landing on cold cement… only to land on a bed of feathers. This happens far more often than you might think.

I can apply this quote to countless areas of my life, the biggest perhaps being the last couple years as I switched schools to attend a brand new high school. I was terrified about being in a new school, but I made a commitment to myself that I would make my high school experience an amazing one: and the world responded, as McKenna says, by lifting me up.

When school started, I hurled myself into the abyss. I got involved in clubs, made new friends, and stepped outside of my comfort zone in countless ways (I even started this blog!). I shortly fell into a feather bed. I was the happiest I’d been in a long time: I loved my school, my friends, and my life. And if I had never been courageous enough to “dream the impossible dream”, I would not be living the happy life I am today.

The next time you’re faced with an opportunity, consider your options. Imagine yourself taking that risk and having it pay off. Picture yourself jumping into the abyss and landing softly on feathers. Your fear of failure might trick you into saying the jump isn’t worth the fall, the risk isn’t worth the reward, but trust me when I say this: it is.

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