I have a Japanese friend who is learning English. Actually, she has been learning English for over 10 years. She is a quick learner, dedicated, and studies hard. She is basically fluent, and if she applied, she could likely find work at various companies in Japan based on her English ability alone.

Except she doesn’t apply. She says she still needs to learn a few more words and a couple more grammatical structures. She says she needs more practice. Just a little more. Then she’ll be fluent.

Then she will be ready.

Then she’ll be confident.

Then she won’t be scared anymore.

When it comes down to it, the only real obstacle holding her back is fear.

She is afraid she isn’t good enough. But she won’t know until she tries.

She is afraid she doesn’t know enough. But she won’t know what she doesn’t know until she tries.

She is afraid of making a mistake. If she doesn’t make mistakes, then she won’t learn.

She is afraid she might fail. Failing is part of life. Failing can make us better. Failing to try keeps us from moving forward.

Fear distorts our perception

We see ourselves and our abilities through distorted lenses, lenses too often distorted by fear. This distortion causes us to take the safer route, to not apply, and to not try. It causes us to overestimate everyone else and underestimate ourselves.

There is a cure for this way of thinking. Start doing. Think you aren’t good enough? Put your skills to the test and find out.

Worst case scenario, you will find out where you can improve, which is the point. Best case scenario, you find out that you are better than you thought. The experience gives you confidence and takes away the fear.

Fear is created by uncertainty, by being unknown. Once you know, its less scary.

Doing creates experience. Experience creates confidence. Confidence removes fear.

Learning vs Doing

Learning is important. As learners, we are able to gain knowledge and skills in a safe environment. We are allowed to practice, fail, and experiment. We like learning because it feels safe.

But there comes a point where you need to start doing to keep improving. You can study English, read examples, and practice with a teacher, but using it in the real world shows you exactly where your skills are, what you know, and what you don’t.

How to start doing

The reason we are afraid to try is because we are afraid to fail. It’s the same reason we feel safer in the classroom. We don’t want to make mistakes in front of our peers. We are afraid they might see how little we think we really know.

But here is the secret, people who are really good at their jobs, the people who are the best in their fields, are always learning. They are able to acknowledge their weak points and mistakes and work to fix them. They acknowledge that they aren’t perfect, but are always working towards perfection.

Focus on producing and getting better. Work towards perfection, but don’t require it before your start producing. Even doctors “practice”.

No one expects your to be perfect. Remember that your peers wear the same distortion goggles about their own abilities when they compare themselves to you.

My friend thinks her English is average. I know it’s amazing.

She thinks she isn’t ready. I know she is.

She thinks she can’t do it. I know she can.