The fear of “failure” can be one of the most crippling afflictions affecting the human psyche today. Especially in the era of the internet and social media, where other peoples’ successes are continuously highlighted, failure can really hurt one’s confidence and self-esteem. In fact, while failure has been around since the dawn of human evolution, the term “epic fail” has only gained traction and popularity of usage in the early 21st century.
However, failing at something can be considered as a stepping stone to matters of greater importance. It’s all just a matter of perspective. Of course, nobody wants to lose all their money in a business venture or to be stuck in a dead-end career, but the reality is — failure is a necessary and fundamental part of success. You simply need to ask yourself this question: “Which is more important, your desire to succeed or your fear of failure?”
Nearly every article about failure has an obligatory Michael Jordan reference. He was cut from his high school basketball team to his ad campaign on how he was able to accomplish so much because he’s missed a lot of game-winning shots. The reason this resonates so stridently is the fact that while not all achievements will be on such a grand stage. Michael Jordan always made it a point of saying that he was only human with his own set of limitations that he needed to overcome, just like everybody needs to be able to do so in each of our lives.
The fear of failure can do far-reaching damage on a person’s life, even more so than actual failure itself. While there are several signs of this mental state, two of the most apparent symptoms are procrastination and perfectionism, with one being employed as a means to avoid failure.
As the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” We all know that to achieve anything worthwhile, we must first start from the beginning. Conversely, procrastination is a form of self-sabotage that prevents us from taking that “first step.”
Humans are wired to have a feeling of being rewarded after accomplishing a task, and procrastination can be viewed as an artificial means of high jacking the brain’s gratification mechanism. This may come in the form of watching another episode of your favorite series or spending an extra few minutes luxuriating on your morning routine. In a nutshell, this makes you feel that wasting time has led you to accomplish something when you actually haven’t.
Perfectionism creates an unattainable scenario where the conditions are “just right,” or something will be bound to go wrong. Naturally, there is a healthy level of wanting to control variables to be able to function correctly. On the other hand, this notion can be taken to extremes and be used as an excuse for when things go wrong. This brings about a mindset of being unwilling to learn from mistakes, or simply not wanting to even try.
Actively pursue your goals.
With procrastination and perfectionism, the best way to counter them is to begin actively pursuing your goals. If you’re afraid of failing, you will be averse to even start trying anything at all. A good advice, coming from Stoic philosophy, is to visualize the worst possible outcome for any given scenario. This does not pertain to giving in to irrational fear or worry, but rather it is an exercise in discerning the things which we cannot control versus the things that we do control.
Granted, there is a certain amount of risk when we are dealing with unknown circumstances. Nevertheless, we can use negative visualization to our advantage in that we can be better prepared, and plan accordingly, for unfavorable results. As Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom knows when we know nothing.” Ultimately, we don’t begin to even TRY knowing something if we are terrified to fail.
Be willing to follow through.
In 1999, social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger published a study wherein novices tended to overestimate their ability or skill in particular tasks. Oppositely, experts in the same field tended to underestimate their prowess when asked to similarly rank themselves. This form of cognitive bias is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.
This pertains to how humans are geared to think. The less we know, the more confident we are. Simultaneously, the more time we spend in learning and practicing a specific endeavor, the lower our confidence becomes. We need to put in the time and effort to become experts at anything worthwhile.
With that being said, I would like to focus on self-confidence dropping whenever we fail at something. That sickening feeling you get is indeed perfectly normal. The important thing is that we should have the courage to pick ourselves up when your confidence drops, and to just keep learning and following through on our goals if we ever want to attain them.
Always put failure into perspective.
Lastly, we should always be able to put failure into the proper perspective. One example that I can think of is from a friend who was afraid that no one will show up to a party she was planning for her 18-year-old daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony. They invited, and prepared for, nearly a hundred people, but less than half of them turned up.
Naturally, this friend was devastated at this perceived failure. Interestingly, her daughter was not. Rather than focusing on those who didn’t come, her daughter was pleased because she could find out who really cared enough to be there for her. With a slight difference in perspective, her mother learned from her daughter about how some failures aren’t as bad as they seem.
Remember that failure and success are only temporary. What’s more valuable is how we view and react to it to enrich our lives and experiences.
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