Failure is perfectly normal, yet why is it feared so much? According to the American Psychology Association, the fear of failure is defined as the irrational anxiety about failing to measure up to standards set by oneself, or the inability to meet an expectation or goal. Many of us limit ourselves and create a personal ceiling because we are afraid to fail. We often think about the opinions of others—from peers to family to strangers. We put unnecessary pressure on ourselves and are so concerned with life not flowing like the way it does in the visions of our imagination.
Let me start by telling you, failure is the beginning of success. From as early as when we came out of the womb, we didn’t know how to walk right away. Babies start off crawling, learn how to stand, and eventually start to walk. Although the first couple of times that they stand up they also fall down, that does not stop them from trying again and again. The failure they encounter allows them to learn how to gain balance in a way where they can eventually walk. Here we see how babies embrace failure and are rewarded for it.
At this point in time, babies have an innocent mindset and so continue to pursue their goal of walking without being upset about failing. Everyone, from family members to strangers, embrace babies’ learning curve because it is simply a way of life. Yet why is it that as we grow up, the thought of failure makes us tingle? As young adults, we are so hellbound on creating the life we envision without much hassle or resistance. Just like babies keep trying after they fall down and fail, why can't we also keep trying in our endeavors after a setback?
My Relationship with Failure
I’m not so good at roller skating yet; I have the basics down, but that’s about it. I remember visiting a friend one day during the holidays, and we decided to go roller skating. I love watching people in action, especially the people that glide backwards with such style and rizz (charisma). I was so excited to get on the floor, so once I got my skates I was ready to go. The first couple laps on the floor were really chilled, and then skrttt. I lose balance and fall right on my back.
Now I’m someone to laugh something like that off, but there were a good forty to fifty people who saw me fall. My friend was laughing at me but in good spirits. I was laughing, but on the inside I was truly tempted to skate over to the side railing and call it a day. I’m glad I didn’t though because I had fun for the next thirty or so minutes after that, and fell again during my fun filled time. I had felt slightly embarrassed but brushed it off because I had the grace to understand that I was still learning. I was so worried about what other people were thinking, but in the grand scheme of things, everyone was just focused on enjoying their own experience at the rink. We get so caught up on how others are living and get trapped in comparison, but why? That is a question that we will answer later.
What Holds Us Back?
So what actually prevents us from taking further steps towards our goals? Well Thomas Edison once said, “people give up because they don’t know how close they are to success”. The idea of uncertainty can sometimes affect the way that we respond to certain situations. For example, if someone had told you that it takes five years to become successful in your career path, you would most likely stick it out and persevere. This is because you can envision how you would spend your time while waiting to achieve success. On the flipside, when we have an indefinite measure of time for how long something may take, it can make us anxious, weary, and even doubtful.
Oftentimes, we also allow our past to keep us hostage. Life is constantly changing. We are changing too. The latter keeps us where we were yesterday, a week ago, a year ago, or even a decade ago. Holding onto the past makes you hold onto the same old habits you had or the same mindset that you had a while back. This is part of the comfort zone which does not want to see you grow or overcome things that you are very capable of. Doing something differently puts you in an uncomfortable situation where you don’t know how to react, conjuring up feelings of fear or uncertainty. The past can hinder many things, including success, but our job is to make peace with the past and allow ourselves to overcome it.
When fear starts to creep in, our minds start to race with the ‘what ifs’. What if I don’t have a degree? What if they don’t like me? What if I don’t look the part? WHAT IF YOU DO? ‘What ifs’ are the common tongue of fear, and fear feeds into anxiety. What if you do succeed though—ask yourself—what if I take a step forward in a positive direction? Will you be at your destination—maybe not yet—but you sure are a step closer. Instead of filling our heads with the thousands of ‘what if’ questions, we can do our best to transform our way of thinking to a ‘no ifs, buts, or maybes’ mindset. It is easier said than done, but isn’t that why you are truly here—to learn helpful tips about overcoming the fear of failure?
How to Overcome the Fear of Failure
The sky is not the limit; it's just the beginning. That’s why there are footsteps on the moon. There are so many divine opportunities for us all in this universe. We are just as deserving of joy, success, grace, and love as the versions of ourselves we see in our futures. So how do we maneuver out of this limited, fear filled mindset? There are several avenues to venture into that help overcome this limitation. All you need to do is find the best one for YOU, and STICK to it. Some of these courses of action include; the acceptance of failure, a change in our habits, and the will to change.
Accepting failure can be difficult at times, especially when you are so conditioned to believe that it is a bad thing. We sometimes see failure as a detrimental step or negative setback in our journey. Our community can also have an influence on our perception of failure. If they see failure as fatalistic then we most likely will see it the same way. We often have many people who are in our ears about the paths we are currently taking, as well as if we have lived up to their standard of success. As normal as failure is, no one wants to keep failing of course. Learning to accept failure helps us to move forward along in our journey. Acceptance allows us to acknowledge the failure and not let it affect us by holding onto it longer than we need to. Defining your own standard of success is very important. Understanding that you may not be able to simply complete every step as you have planned is normal. If we could complete everything to a tee with no hassle, setbacks, or roadblocks, we would be robots. That is why acceptance is very key: it allows us to grow regardless of our flaws, making us more powerful than we can imagine.
Changing our habits
In order to create a change in our mindset, we have to tweak our habits, through many different efforts. There are many ways of changing our habits, but I will let you in on a few simple tips that help.
Firstly, identifying which bad habits you may have that you want to improve is important. When I say “bad” habit, it may not necessarily be a negative, but it might be holding you back from reaching that next level. For example, waking up at 8am is not bad, but if you were to wake up at 7am you could eat breakfast, get more work done, or just feel better prepared for the day. Therefore, making a list of what habits you would like to change is a good start. Writing this list on paper is very effective because you could put the list on your desk, bathroom mirror, or fridge in order to remind yourself constantly of the habits you would like to change.
Secondly, finding the root cause of these bad habits is essential in minimizing them. For example, if you like to snack late at night, making sure that you get a good hearty meal a few hours or more before bed could help cut down the temptation to snack. Finding the root cause can help you to find a possible solution to that bad habit. Hence giving you the power to change that habit for the better.
Finding ways to replace tough habits with alternative useful habits goes a long way. For example, if you endlessly scroll on social media—because I know we can all get caught up on TikTok for hours—finding other things to occupy your time could help you become more productive. You could replace scrolling on socials with taking a walk in nature, cleaning your room, planning out the next day, cooking, talking with friends, reading a book or even listening to a podcast.
Lastly, I will leave you with this tip. Rewarding yourself for overcoming your bad habits is super important. That could look like treating yourself to your favorite meal, or playing a game after completing all your work. This is very important for encouraging more positive habit changes.
Sometimes you just have to do it
Just do it. As Nike says, find a way to get started, and take a leap of faith. There is no easy direct root to overcoming the fear of failure, and not everyone will have the same journey. The goal is to just start and keep going, one step at a time. I believe you can do it, so believe you can too!
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase”
- Martin Luther King Jr
What resources can lend a helping hand
While you are on this journey to overcoming fear, having an accountability partner, or someone you trust can help a lot. Self-discipline is not an easily acquired skill, so having someone that can help keep you consistent with your habit changes, as well as your goals is a really good thing. Apps such as Todoist and Habitica help you knock off daily tasks and reach your productivity goals in effective as well as fun ways.
I wish you the best on this journey because you’ve got what it takes. Now believe and take action.