There is no failure other than the failure to try.
This old saying captures the essence of what failure actually is.
Fear of failure is oftentimes conditioned in children while growing up. Schooling has structured study formats, syllabus, exam dates, result interpretation methods. But life does not have any structure or method. Everyday can be an exam – everyday we are evaluated for our work, for who we are. The fear of being judged is understood as the fear of failure.
Appreciation and criticism in childhood can also instill this fear in us. We are appreciated for our successes, criticized, or worse still, ridiculed for our failures. Our parents, teachers; expect us to excel in everything. We are made to study subjects we don’t like more than subjects we like as we need to better ourselves there. These experiences instill a lifelong apprehension towards performance, success, the ability to face challenges and take risks to find success in our dreams.
Changing the perspective about failure is the key to overcoming the fear of failing. Very few of us are taught that failures are stepping stones to success. Failures are an indispensable part of our learning curve.
There are few that teach us that failures are like dribbling the ball and passing the ball before being able to score a goal. We all know but few comprehend that we fall a few times before we learn to walk or to ride a bicycle.
As we grow up, we become scared of being judged. We stop doing new things. We trade the novelty and excitement of life with mundaneness. This acceptance of mundaneness, unwillingness to try something new for the fear of being judged, or not permitting ourselves adequate time frame is called fear of failure.
There is a small story of an ant and a king. A king is in exile. He keeps rallying forces and fight a guerilla war to regain his kingdom. But he fails everytime. One day when he is in hiding, he watches an ant carrying an insect to its home. The ant keeps falling down and the insect rolls away. It goes, picks the insect yet again and walks up. This happened 7-8 times. The ant did not give up and finally succeeded to drop the insect in its hole. This inspires the king. He fights yet again. This time, he knows that this is not his last chance. He would try again. This reduced the stress and pressure he felt. It increased his confidence and vigour. When we feel we will not get another chance we feel scared, not of failure, just not being able to put in our best effort.
You may know what to do, but if you do not how to do it, failure would still loom large. Here is a small analogy which teaches us the same idea very beautifully. A king is in hiding. One day he walks up to a village hut and asks for food. The lady of the house invites him in, without knowing he is the king. She serves a ladle-full of khichadi to her son and to the king. There is a generous serving of ghee in the center. The son reaches for the ghee in the center and burns his fingers. She slaps him gently on his hand and says, “you are like our king. Reaching right to the center. Start from the periphery and slowly make your way to the center.” The king understands this lesson and changes his strategy of war. And he wins the war.
Some strategies to win over your fear of failure are:
- try new things and feel like a child – permitting yourself to get it wrong a few times.
- decide what you want to do,
- identify and explore how would you do it,
- be realistic about how much time and energy would it take,
- look at it as an adventure with possible challenges one could face
- enjoy the uncertainty as fear of uncertainty can also become the fear of failure
Next time you find yourself sitting on the fence, unable to decide whether to take the plunge or not, follow the Nike slogan – Just do it!