No one likes to fail. Especially me – I’m super competitive. In fact, until recently, if I didn’t think I could win/succeed at something I wouldn’t even try or participate. I know, I know. Crazy right? The thing is (and I’ve only recently explored this within my psyche fully) – I totally fear failure.
My Dirty Little Secret Is Out
I kind of feel like I’m not supposed to admit that I fear failing, that I should be more evolved than to let something as ‘every day’ as an emotion hold me back, but hey, I’m human – shoot me. Anyway, once I started to examine what I was feeling and why, I realised that a fear of failing was only going to hold me back, whereas fear itself could actually be a useful tool for growth.
Common sense – definitely. But I’ve lost count of the number of times a lack of clarity on stuff like this has either stopped me, or someone I know from achieving our full potential. Getting really clear about what my fear of failure entailed brought some interesting points to light – all of which I hope will be helpful to you if you’re currently battling the ‘failure’ demons yourself.
It’s How You Use It That Counts
Fear is like an annoying relative - we have no choice but to learn to tolerate it, because frankly it’s not going to disappear in a hurry. What’s more, it’ll inevitably keep cropping up at inconvenient times. As much as we dislike having to experience uncomfortable emotions, we need to accept that fear is just part and parcel of being human – no matter who you are, or where you come from – you simply can’t escape it.
We ALL experience fear at some point or other in our lives. Often times, when we really do need to be afraid, like when our life is in danger, we don’t bemoan fear so much, becuase it’s at those times that fear plays the ‘good guy’. It motivates us to take steps to preserve ourselves and/or the lives of others.
To that end, fear is a natural and valuable, key emotional motivator. Think of it as a red flag that tells us to ‘be prepared’. There’s nothing WRONG with feeling afraid, it doesn’t mean we’re weak – it just means we’re HUMAN. It’s how we DEAL with fear that defines us, especially when we let fear of things like non-life threatening situations prevent us from doing something that could be beneficial to our growth.
Twisting Fear Into A False Reality
Sometimes, our way of dealing with fear is to turn it into something it’s not – particularly in the case of a fear of failure. Fearing failure is a negative perception we choose to adopt where ‘failing’ means you judge yourself as having insufficient skills – of being ‘less than’ of being ‘not good enough’.
No-one wants to feel like that. So because we give failure that meaning, we avoid experiencing it and allow it to stop us from doing things we could, should or would love to do.
Change What Failure Means To You
The long and short of it is, if we make ‘failure’ mean something else - something less unpleasant than a judgement that we’re not good enough - we won’t fear it so much.
One way to change what failure means, is to remind ourselves that not getting things right the first time around, is part and parcel of getting it right, full stop. Just because you ‘fail’ doesn’t even necessarily mean you have insufficient skills. It might mean you were having an ‘off’ day. It could mean you weren’t properly prepared, or that your emotional balance got thrown off by something or someone else. And, if it DOES mean your skills weren’t bang up to scratch, the experience of discovering this means you now have a valuable pointer as to which areas of your skill set you need to polish.
Sometimes, even just examining why you failed at something can give you a different perspective and make you realise that you’re not ‘less than’ – maybe you just weren’t on the ball that day – and that’s certainly not something that you should let hold you back from trying new things and taking up new opportunities.
The Insidiousness Of Fear
The annoying thing about having a fear of failure, is that often, we don’t even know that it’s there in the background, gnawing away on the peripheries of our consciousness, undermining our confidence and causing our brain to come up with all kinds of fake reasons why we don’t want to do something.
• “Oh, there’s no point starting that business venture – the market’s too small and I wouldn’t make any money.”
(Even in the smallest markets there are opportunities to make money – you just have to be the best at what you do and market the rear end off it).
• “The promotion would be good, but with more money comes more responsibility and I want to minimise stress in my life.”
(What about the fact that it could be an exciting, stimulating challenge?).
• “What’s the point writing a book? You won’t make any money out of it and besides, it’s so competitive.”
(Sure, publishers are always looking for the next best seller – but why couldn’t that be you?).
You see, if we don’t try new things, we’ll never learn, expand, grow or have new opportunities to express the full extent of our being. When you try new things, it’s inevitable (unless you’re a superhuman) that you might need to take more than one shot to perfect it. In essence, if it weren’t for trying new things and the resulting so called ‘failure’, we’d still be rolling around in nappies on the floor, never making it to two feet.
So if ‘failure’ (or if you’d prefer, ‘not getting it right, straight off the bat’), can actually be helpful to us, why does it generally only show up as a hindrance?
Is Fear Ruining Your Life?
The problem with fear is that at times we can let it stop us from living our lives. Sometimes, just the fear of failing, of looking like an idiot or embarassing ourselves is enough to prevent us from doing anything that might be life-enriching or positive for our growth. Fear can stop us from pursuing our dreams, from asking that girl out, from taking the job interstate or from sharing our true selves with people close to us because we fear judgement.
Yeah, Good In ‘Theory’ But What About The Real World, Camilla?
Ok – you didn’t get the job. Your business failed. Your wife left you. You judge all those things as ‘failures’.
Did you ever think that some of your goals weren’t right for you – that they wouldn’t deliver to you the end result you were hoping for? Maybe the fact you missed out on that job will open up an opportunity to do something that’s better paid and more rewarding. Perhaps you’ll learn from the errors in your business and use the resulting knowledge to create a new product or service that will blow the market out of the water. Maybe your dream girl is just around the corner. You can’t let a fear of the past repeating stop you from living today, otherwise you’ll never achieve more enjoyable circumstances for yourself.
Some Productive & Empowering Ways Of Looking At & Dealing With Fear
Failure Is Temporary – Experience Is Forever
We always forget that failure is specific to a single point in time. When you fell over when you were trying to get up and walk for the first time, did that make you a failure? No! You didn’t make it mean the end of the world. Then, in no time at all, you were up and running, wreaking havoc for your Mum and Dad.
ALL Experience Is Valuable
We might not try new things because we’re afraid of what could happen if it all comes unstuck, but the reality is, we need to experience different things in our life to know what NOT to do, what’s in our best interests and what we ARE good at!
If you look upon failure as a valuable opportunity to see where you can gain new skills, experience and knowledge of how to either get it right, or do it better, you’ll see it more as a positive experience and less as something to be feared.
Learn From Your ‘Failures’
People often say, ‘it’s not a failure, as long as you learn something from it,’ and I think many people think when they hear that, ‘Yeah, I learned never to do that again/never to trust anyone again/never to love anyone again.’ But that’s not really helping you live a happier life, is it?
Instead, look at what caused the so called failure. To start with, take an objective look at the situation – completely remove yourself, sever emotional ties with what happened, just for the sake of the exercise and look at the situation dispassionately. Then ask someone else’s opinion and reflect on the information you receive, to assess what really caused the failure. Be specific – don’t just say, ‘It’s because I’m not good enough’ or ‘Because I’m not lovable’ or ‘Because I never get anything right’ – they’re not empowering points of view.
Look at the situation (with as little emotion as possible) from as many different perspectives as you can… Perhaps career pressures put a strain on a relationship and caused it to break down. If you find that was the case, you can learn from that and be aware in your next relationship not to repeat the same mistakes. Maybe a lack of proper planning, inconsistent financing and narrow focus caused your business to go under – if so, use that knowledge to hone your planning skills and prepare better for your next venture.
The Empowering Prospect Of Complete Responsibility
When you accept full responsibility for what goes on in your mind and how you react to your thoughts, you take on a new, empowering perspective. If you accept that YOU are 100% responsible for whether or not fear of failure holds you back, you immediately have more might behind you in the battle against fear.
Remember, fear tells us to ‘be prepared’, so use your past ‘failures’ as wonderful gifts of ‘preparation’ you can use to create an improved future. That way, you can kiss goodbye to being held hostage by fear and see it for what it truly is, a helpful emotional signpost (and no more) that only has the impact on reality you allow it to.
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