I'm up to my eyeballs in various kinds of busyness at the moment, so let's keep this short.
Last month, Baby Smith had his first fall. I'd sat him on my bed to get ready for his nap and had just turned away to draw the curtains when I heard the most spine-chilling sound imaginable: the thud of a small body hitting the carpet. I spun back round and there he was. Face-down on the floor. He'd obviously tried to crawl to the edge of the bed and peer over, with inevitable and disastrous results.
My immediate response was, naturally, ohmygodohmygodohmygodhe'sdeadhe'sdeadhe'sdead. But once I'd finished panicking, berating myself as the worst parent in existence, checking him all over in search of the tiniest scratch, comforting the tears I'd called up with my alarm, and berating myself some more — once I'd ascertained that he hadn't damaged so much as a hair follicle — I started thinking about why he was OK. (This was about a week later, when I'd stopped having flashbacks and was able to remember the incident calmly instead of bouncing off a flashing neon wall of terror in my brain marked The Time I Nearly Killed My Child.) And it occurred to me that babies can fall without getting hurt because they're not frightened. They don't tense up. They don't go into it expecting pain. They just fall.
Over time, children learn what to expect from a fall, and they know it isn't very nice. So they begin to try and prevent it from happening, by flinging out a hand to catch themselves or by avoiding accident-prone situations. In short, they learn fear. And of course when they do fall, it hurts more — because they're expecting it, because they try and save themselves from it, because knowing the risks of what you're doing always makes you more tentative and therefore less wholehearted.
The thing is, life is all about falling. Unless you're that one in a billion who will never ever experience setback or rejection or failure, life is really just a series of falls. Unfortunately, most of us get worse and worse at falling as we get older. We stop taking risks. We take our failures to heart. Each one of those falls makes it that little bit harder to get up again.
Of course we shouldn't be reckless. I'm not advocating that you jump without even checking to see how high the drop is. But if you're aiming for something you really want, you could do a lot worse than fall like a baby would: without any expectation of pain. And when the pain does hit you? Let it happen. Learn from it. But never let it make you afraid to try again.