Inspirational Articles

Different Sides of the Same Coin - Part 1 - Fear of Failure

Different Sides of the Same Coin Part 1 - Fear of Failure

By Kathy Ryndak and Gord Riddell

Many of us are afraid to start new things for fear we may fail. We all live in a comfort zone that creates a sense of safety for us. Having to move outside of our comfort zone causes anxiety and panic through to tears and rage. The emotional gambit is right across the board depending on how we personally deal with our own fear. The fear of failure is something many people express as they attempt to move forward and create change in their lives. Our comfort zone is very reassuring. It is the proverbial "devil we know" no matter how miserable we may be in that comfort zone we call our life.

In reality most of us are used to the idea of failing. How many times have we started something and at some point decided this is not for me. At least that is how we rationalize it to ourselves and others. Words like "it is not the right time", "there is not enough money", I don't have the energy to take on something new" spill forth from our mouth and people support us in our decision. On the inside of our self we are responding to a sense of fear that is compelling us not to make any changes and to stay put. We easily convince our self that our rationale is correct and we do not make any moves. Inside however we have a nagging feeling that once again we may have failed or have missed the boat on something big.

Other Peoples' Beliefs

From our parents, teachers, peers and our society we have learned what is considered a failure. From low grades in school through to divorce in adulthood we have been given numerous messages that inform our beliefs of what may be a failure. We tread gently through these beliefs avoiding anything that may trigger that ominous sense of failure and the feelings of embarrassment, guilt or shame that we may risk experiencing. To say nothing of the need to explain our self to others as to how could this happen? It is easier to explain it was not for me and quit than to risk failing and facing our self and worst, other peoples' opinions.

Our black and white world dictates to us what a failure is and what success is. We have very little room to make decisions for our self. Our right to make our own choices for our life is vitally important to our sense of self and to our self esteem. To live our life being outwardly focused, driven by other peoples' beliefs, constantly worried as to what others may think, diminishes our right to make choices and live a life that is internally guided by our own belief systems. It is also a set up to believe we have failed when our actions do not match others' beliefs. Interestingly, even if they do not express it, we still believe we may have failed in their eyes.

It is very difficult to break through this sense of failing in the eyes of others and cultivate our own life. Primarily because our fear of rejection, disapproval and hence abandonment is so pervasive in our life. It is a very old fear dating as far back as when we lived tribally and housed and feed each other communally. To risk being abandoned by the tribe was truly a life and death matter. To not have tribal support was to risk certain death. This very old fear resides deep with in us today and for many people it continues to dictate behaviours that are self limiting and no longer necessary in our modern world. It does however take a lot of work to believe we will not die if we make choices for our self which may not beheld as suitable to others.

Room for Learning

The problem with this societal model of what is success and what is failure leaves very little room for us to learn. We may feel we cannot make a mistake or choices that may be risky. Held in our safety zone, everything we do usually has a known outcome. Our decisions to supposedly change something in our life rarely carry much risk. The fear of making the wrong decision, leads to the fear of making a mistake, leading to the possibility of being seen as a failure.

We do not learn anything by repeating what we already know. Our biggest teacher is the mistakes we make in life. We do not intentionally make mistakes for the most part. We make decisions in the moment based on all the data available to us at the time. We only make intentional mistakes when we do not listen to that little intuitive voice inside of us that says "do not do this" and we go ahead anyway. The idea of a mistake is only in hindsight, after we know the outcome of our decision. You cannot make a mistake in the present, only in the past. But is it a failure?

No matter what our rational is for choosing one thing or leaving something else, it is never a failure unless we fail to learn from the situation. Moving from one situation to the next and repeating the same mistakes over and over is perhaps the only place that we can look and say I failed at that. Our need to learn from situations arising in our life is crucial for us to grow. If we view every error as a failure we have no room to grow, no room to embrace our ever changing life. Mistakes are the unseen teacher lurking in the background. We do not have to listen but when we do not listen and learn, we are set up to repeat the same mistake over and over again until the lesson becomes clear and we incorporate it into our thoughts and beliefs.

Our experience combined with our learning move us to wisdom. It is Okay to make mistakes, it is even better when we take the time and initiative to ask our self what do we need to learn from this situation? It is not a failure and there is nothing to fear. The idea of fear of failure is more overblown than it need be. It diverts us away from an even bigger issue. That issue being many people are more afraid of success than failure. Failing may actually be easier than succeeding!

Next month, Part 2 of Different side of the Same Coin, Fear of Success will look at our fear of success and how we can actually succeed, in spite of our self.