Why do we fear failure, missteps and mistakes? Why really? Because firstly, there’s much more to it than just the Fear of Failure as it’s so often called. In reality, it’s a fear of, or an attachment to, the following…
One of the biggest reasons that we fear failure is because we fear the judgement that often goes along with it.
“You’re a loser”
“You’re not enough”
No one likes to hear this. And so, we avoid it. And so, we let the fear of failure stop us because the judgement that may result from it is just too shameful and scary.
We fear criticism in the same way we fear judgement. When judgement says, “you are a failure and a loser“, criticism says, “you did that wrong and that’s why you failed.” Both sting like hell.
But check out this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, which informed researcher and author Brene Brown’s amazing work, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; … who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; …who spends himself in a worthy cause; … who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
In other words, the critics don’t get to comment on the man in the arena. It takes daring to be in the pit, fighting for what you want despite failure or setbacks. The critic is usually someone who is watching from the sidelines – bear that in mind next time you fear criticism.
A fear of failure is a fear of rejection. What if we put ourselves out there and we’re rejected? What if we’re not good enough? Rejection makes us question our value, our worth. And so, we avoid it; we fear it. No one wants to be at the risk of being cast away. We all want to belong.
Being not enough. Not perfect. Not validated and valued. We all want worthiness but few of us have it. When our worth is up for question, we become afraid. Our sense of belonging and love and place in this world is on the line.
But the best thing for you to do is to seek self-worth. No lasting worth will come from external factors or other people. You must give it to yourself.
Fear of failure is a fear of shame. The shame that comes from feeling on display, judged, criticised, and told that you’re not enough. We fear that our failures will highlight all that is wrong with us, all that isn’t worthy and is up for debate.
“See, I knew he was nothing special. Look at all his flaws.”
But again, this ties to criticism. Anyone shaming you for daring greatly does not get to comment. If you feel shame within yourself, then ask where that is coming from (and seek out Brene Brown’s guidance!)
When we fall and stumble, it can feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us. That we are losing our control, our position, our power. Suddenly, we’re no longer this thing or that thing; we’re just a failure. Reduced to a small thing that didn’t stack up. That’s pretty frickin’ scary.
But we gain strength from resilience and the triumph despite failure; so, keep on going and you’ve nothing to fear.
What if we put everything on the line and it’s still not enough? What if we leap and fall? What is everyone sees who we really are and sees that we didn’t have what it takes after all? What if we fail and run out of options?
We feel hopeless.
We can fear failure because we fear what it may lead to. As if failure results in being sentenced to life on some desert island that we can’t escape from. This is a lie.
At the root of it all is vulnerability. I’m a bit sick of how much I mention this word/concept, but it’s just because anything associated with fear is tied to vulnerability! We are afraid of being vulnerable. And being afraid makes us feel vulnerable. It’s an endless cycle. It’s unavoidable.
It seems that the only question is this: Sit in the fear of failure and be vulnerable, or face the vulnerability of uncertainty and potentially find all that you’re looking for…
I know what I’d rather choose.
We are afraid of being seen as imperfect. As someone who falls. As someone who has scars. But I’d sooner see someone who has fallen many times and got back up, wouldn’t you? Over someone who has never fallen.
Sometimes people fear failure because they believe that they are entitled to success. It’s kind of crazy to me that some people just assume success is assured and that it will be easy, and then they are surprised when they find out that it’s not.
The best things in life won’t come easy, as they say.
It doesn’t mean you’ll strive forever or be beaten up a million times (though you might), but I promise you that success (no matter your definition of it) does not come overnight. You’re creating your own fear of failure by assuming that it will or should.
Which of these are at the root of your fear of failure? Which is holding you back? Free yourself and confront the real problem. Trust me, strength, resilience, perspective, insight and a great many other good things comes from your failure, so don’t avoid it.
If you need any help in bettering your mental health, or better coping with anxiety, depression, and stress, then my book “You’re As Mad As I Am” may be for you. Check it out here, and download a free sample to see what it’s all about.
If you want to hire me to write about mental health (or other), then don’t hesitate to get in touch!