Day 6  —  Fear of Mistakes

David VogeleerDec 17 · 3 min read

Every year during the month of December, Buddy highlights the Twelve Days of Fearlessness. Whether it is getting up the nerve to lace up your old ice skates with your five-year-old or conquering a halfpipe like your teenage days, fearlessness is not just situational for all- for some, it is a way of life.

Photo by Maria Lysenko on Unsplash
statue of a revolver with the barrel tied in a knot

When most people think of being afraid to make mistakes, they think of not taking risks. There is another side of fearing mistakes, and that’s after they happen. The “What do I do now?” fear can be more paralyzing than taking the risk in the first place.

This happened to me a few years (20 ish) ago. I used to shoot handguns competitively when I was younger. I was pretty decent at it, being ranked #2 in the world in my class out of about 18,000. My top classifier (how shooters measure themselves against each other) involved me drawing my gun, hitting 2 metal targets and a paper target twice at a little over 15 yards away. I did it in 2.86 seconds from the buzzer going off until my last shot fired. I was fast and usually accurate.

Competitive shooting taught me a lot about analyzing problems, prioritizing goals, and hard work. At the time, I was practicing drawing and reloading over 20 hours per week, and shooting about 500 live rounds per week. One year, I had won my class in the area 8 championships (there are 8 “areas” in the country) and got a slot to compete at nationals. I was nervous, a long way from home, and had a bunch of people watching me. But I had trained and was confident in my abilities to go out there and get it done. I had a good couple stages in the morning, then got to a challenging one. I had a choice to take the conservative route, which would give me more time at each target, or the aggressive route, where I could shave several seconds and increase my overall score. I went for it and had multiple misses on target, costing me over a hundred points (that’s a lot in the sport.) I didn’t make the wrong choice, but still had a result that would most likely put me out the contention for winning.

Photo by Mihai Lazăr on Unsplash
a bullseye target with a bunch of holes in it

I was devastated. I had 3 more days of competition and I was very much behind in the rankings. I was afraid my training wasn’t enough and I needed to make up the points somehow. I didn’t listen to my instincts or my training partner, so over the next 2 days I pushed myself harder, I took shortcuts, and I dug myself deeper and deeper with more mistakes, letting it snowball.

Once there was zero chance I could pull out any sort of a victory, I calmed down. I wasn’t afraid of losing any more, I had already lost even with another day of shooting to go. The last day of the competition was my best. I was relaxed. I listened to myself about taking the right risks, but not the dumb ones. I moved up the rankings several hundred places in that single day and nearly won the most difficult stage overall, beating out dozens of people who were classes higher than my own. I still didn’t come out on top, there was no way to make up that ground because in truth there never was.

You can’t undo mistakes, you can only learn and do your best not to repeat. When you let fear creep in when you make a mistake, you lose yourself. If I had just keep shooting the way I had trained, there was a possibility to have still won. It turned out on the stage that I made the mistake, everyone was making the same mistake all week, so it evened out. But fear of losing kept me from seeing the bigger picture, that I was good enough to win even with a little mistake.

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