Fear of failure is a very powerful emotion that can do a lot of harm. It can prevent people from trying new things and therefore lead to them missing out on some potentially enriching and empowering experiences. In the same way that you can’t win a raffle if you don’t buy a ticket, you can’t benefit from an experience if you deny yourself the opportunity to have it.
As is often the case in life, a vicious circle can easily arise:
- I am not confident enough to get involved in a particular activity because I am afraid that I will fail.
- I limit my opportunities for learning and development.
- I may feel I am letting myself down for not getting involved, and feel bad about this.
- This can reduce my self-esteem and keep my confidence level low.
- I may let people down by restricting myself in this way (especially if I am a parent or have people relying on me).
- I can feel bad about this and may even feel annoyed with myself.
- This can reduce my self-esteem and confidence further.
- This can then lead me to restrict even further the activities I feel safe enough to participate in.
- If people become aware of this they are likely to have less respect for me and will trust me less.
- If I become aware of this, I can have even less confidence in myself.
… and so it goes on.
Fear of failure is understandable and can even be useful. If we had no fear of failure whatsoever, we could easily find ourselves in situations where we are seriously out of our depth. The trouble comes when we make an unrealistic appraisal of the level of risk involved in a particular situation (we are ‘risk averse’, to use the technical term).
What we need to be able to do, then, is look at the specific risks involved in a situation carefully without under- or overestimating them. One helpful way of doing this is to consider two questions:
- How likely am I to fail? In other words, realistically, what are the chances of you failing in whatever it is you are considering? It can be helpful to be as clear as possible about what exactly is it you are afraid of – that is, to have a clear and explicit picture of precisely what could happen that you dread so much. Are you really likely to fail or is it just your confidence letting you down?
- How serious would it be if I did fail? Would it be such a big deal if you did fail? What would the actual consequences be and what difference would they make to me? Is it purely the embarrassment of failure? The clearer you can be about these issues, the better.
Being clear about your fears can help you manage them.
What can also be important to bear in mind is that failure is not necessarily a bad thing. Important successes in life will generally follow on form failure – that is, failure is part of the route to success, partly because of the learning to be gained from failure and partly because of the motivation and determination to succeed that failure will so often spur.
Sadly, many people don’t seem to realise that failure is an everyday occurrence – just keep your eyes open and it won’t be long before you see some sort of failure happening, even if it is just something minor. Failing is part of life, it is part of success.