Is Your Fear of Failure Holding You Back?

No matter how old we are, all of us have some idea of what success looks like to each of us personally–where we want to be in life, who we want to be and how we want to be seen. These beliefs begin in childhood, starting when our parents teach us their own values, then we go to school and receive more input on what does it mean to be a good and successful person. Over the years, we take all of these visions and start to form one of our own–an eclectic mix of those learned from our parents, our teachers and other influences we’ve had along the way. Depending on these influences, some of us will be more traditional and conservative, while others will be much more alternative. 

No matter which path we choose to pursue, we will all, at some level, be afraid of not achieving the goals we set for ourselves. The fear of failure is natural. However, an important question to ask ourselves is: Is the fear of failing, rather than our competence, holding us back from achieving the things we want in life? 

But what is failure? Why do we get stuck and afraid to fail? Are we afraid of what people might think, or are we afraid of our own self-judgement?

Causes and Conditions

We spend most of our lives building our identities. We want to get out of the shadows of parents, teachers, friends, and became or own person. As we mature, we decide many things, such as what we like and what we don’t like, which career we want, what living environment suits us, and if we want a family.  We become attached to that image of ourselves that we’ve fashioned and threatened by anything we believe will disturb, break or change it. While strong self-identity is important, it can also lead us to not take chances or risks because something might go wrong and challenge who we think we are. So we stay where we are comfortable, hoping that life doesn’t shake things up too much. Only this never happens, because change is inevitable and the only constant in life.

Another factor that holds us back, stuck and afraid to fail, is that we believe certain things are reserved for other types of people–one’s born into better or different circumstances and aptitudes. For example, we dream of playing an instrument or becoming a runner, but we don’t because we fear that we don’t have the intelligence or natural ability as others do. This fear of inadequacy is often paralyzing.

Finally, we might not be sure that we really want the things we think we want. Maybe we fear that we do the things we do because of the image we have built of ourselves, constructed partially from the beliefs of others, rather than what we feel deep inside. Maybe we think we need a good job and to make a lot of money to be successful, or to have children, get married and buy a home to be accomplished. Perhaps, we’re secretly craving something different for ourselves or have a different idea of what constitutes a healthy life. It’s important to ask ourselves if what we desire is aligned with the persona we created and, if not, might we consider looking for ways to adapt?

How to Become Unstuck

We aren’t born with a manual of instructions on how to live our lives. We have to discover and build it every day. You can make it a point to reflect periodically and remember not to be so attached to your identity, that it prevents you from growing into the person you desire to be. If you want to change or adapt your identity, a good strategy is to look for people who are similar to you and notice how they achieve what you want to do. As an example: I’m an artist and I don’t enjoy promoting myself, but since I know that I have to, I look toward other artists whom I respect.

If there is something new you want to try, please remember you did not learn how to walk the first time, you did not learn how to read in the first sentence, and you did not learn how to drive the first time you sat in a car. Everything takes time and practice, requiring effort and persistence.  

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