The Fear of Failure


When confronted with a new task it’s natural for someone to feel a sense of anxious hesitation. Sure, it varies between individuals depending on the activity or setting, but entering an unfamiliar scenario can make anyone feel uncomfortable. Often this anxiety leads someone to succumb to their fears of failure, which ultimately results in them not even taking a chance at learning something new.

No one wants to be a failure - there’s a connotation that you should just give up or else be publicly humiliated. Thanks to the recent development of social networks, anyone can declare someone as a failure simply by leaving a comment on a video online or posting blanketed statements on various articles - all the while never having to say it to their face directly or give useful constructive feedback. This mentality comes from a very judgmental and one sided declaration that spurs from people’s fear of being a failure themselves.

Alone, the term failure is a simple solution to a more complex problem. It’s quick to label the scenario as everything having gone wrong rather than taking the time necessary to provide constructive feedback or to consider steps leading up to the “failure”. By neglecting to reflect on the the particulars of the situation we are not learning from our mis-steps.

Rather than refer to these results as failures, I like to think of them as mistakes, granting more leniency to a lifetime of self-educating. While a failure feels conclusive, a mistake feels like a small part of a whole, which is more representative of how learning a new skill or concept should be. We should always be approaching the chance to learn something new with an optimistic and open mind, and the only way to do that successfully is to embrace the fact that you’re bound to make mistakes along the way. Think about it; if a kid messes up, we don’t instantly jump to calling them a failure. We let them know that it’s okay, they’ve made a mistake, but then we follow up with an instruction or demonstration on how they could improve next time. This ability to showcase compassion when sharing ideas is how we’ve come so far as a human race. We tend to be most curious as children because we’re unaware of the cultural judgment that comes from not being right all the time. We’re still willing to experiment without that fear of failure. The curiosity to learn something new is an exciting one, where we focus on ourselves improving and not the jealousy of what others have accomplished, so why not treat our entire lifetime of learning with a similar level of patience and understanding?

Fear can be incredibly influential when learning something new as long as it’s used to fuel the fire and not extinguish it - prove it wrong. Instead of focusing on what you have to accomplish and getting overwhelmed, take time to learn at your own pace; as they say, patience is a virtue. The best way to learn is to dive right in without thinking too heavily. By getting directly involved you will be learning through a hands on experience, which helps to reconfirm what works and what doesn’t. As with most things, repetition is key to retaining information. If you’re willing to make mistakes along the way, jump right in and get your hands dirty. Not only will you avoid wasting time hesitating, but you’re forced to find a solution now that you’ve already begun. The less you think in these scenarios, the better.

In order to learn we must be willing to make mistakes. Hundreds if not thousands of them. You’ll probably even make some incredible, irreversible messes along the way. But rather than wasting time to criticize yourself or worry about what others think of you, focus on the task at hand. Take time to acknowledge what wasn’t working, why it wasn’t working, and move on. It’s as simple as that. Ultimately our biggest failures lead to our greatest successes. So in order for us to improve and grow as individuals as well as a society we must try to overcome this fear or else we’ll never progress, and that’s the real failure.


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