Fear of Failure

I originally started this blog with the idea of sharing my failures – because failing is how we learn. Everyone thinks that you learn from success – and you do. But the lessons you learn from failing are often more valuable – you remember them better (and probably longer), and you remember to do things differently the next time. I wonder if we would all be so afraid of failure if we embraced it rather than seeing it as something shameful. What things could you accomplish if you weren’t afraid of failing?

As I get older, my fear of failure is often outweighed by my sense of mortality. If I don’t do it now, then when? The number of tomorrows is always decreasing. That’s not to say that my fear of failure has disappeared, however.

In fact, it’s something I struggle with often, especially as I try to grow other sources of income in addition to my day job. But I read something the other day that really resonated with me. Nimue Brown and her Druid Life blog is something I’ve followed for a while, and I love her writing because she always makes me think.

Her latest post, ‘Taking it personally,’ struck a chord with me. I lived with an abuser for many years and even now, a decade later, I see things I couldn’t when I was stuck in the situation. When you live with an abuser, you learn to walk on eggshells, and every small remark isn’t just a criticism, it’s a signal that worse things are coming, unless you do something to head it off. You try to anticipate everything (you can’t) and make everything perfect (again, you can’t).

So even though most criticism isn’t harmful and is well-meant, after living through abuse, your reaction is different, and may seem like over-reacting to most people. It’s something I’d never really thought about before, but in looking back at that period of my life, it’s like a light bulb went off. It explains so much – about my behavior and the behavior of those around me. I was hyper-vigilant about criticism because I had to be, but I didn’t allow people to see that part of my life, so most of them thought I was just a drama queen.

After thinking about it for a couple of days, I realized that my fear of failure is tied to the abuse I suffered. Not all, but a large chunk. Previously, failure could have devastating consequences, not just for me, but for those I loved most as well. So even though I am no longer in that situation, my brain has been conditioned to respond to failure in a certain way and to avoid it as much as possible. And unlearning that behavior is extremely difficult – impossible, if you’re not even aware of it, as I wasn’t.

As I continue on my journey, I am going to try and be a little kinder to myself when that fear of failure creeps up on me. It’s not just me being lazy or unmotivated, though that happens as well. And knowing the enemy is half the battle, right? So next time, I can recognize that conditioning and work through it, rather than beating myself up because I’m not making the progress I want.