The fear of failure cliche

I get rather tired of a lot of the self-help cliches that float around. I so often find them trite and unhelpful.

They may be true, of course.

But having someone just say it doesn’t help me relate to it or figure out what to do about it.

Here are some of the most common:

You will never fix your external self until you fix your internal self.
You can’t control anything but your own feelings and actions.
You must find what you love and do it.
You must learn to love yourself before you can properly give to others/love others/be fulfilled/ride unicorns through the enchanted forest.
You need to stop being afraid to fail and make the most of every moment.

I try not to fall into the trap when blogging of merely making a statement and implying that everything now makes sense and the world is now wonderful. I am aware, though, that I have been banging on recently about this fear of failure business.

I have usually resented it when others start talking about fear of failure. They talk about grasping life with both hands, forgetting consequences, taking big risks and putting everything on the line for your passion. I don’t know what my great passion is in life! I don’t have one clear thing that I want to do and don’t see a clear path I should take. When I imagine my ideal life there are lots of vague parts to it. Also, the price of failure (especially if it’s serious financial failure) is often far more than I’m prepared to pay, particularly if I’m not even sure I’m persuing the right thing. Finally, if I am afraid, I don’t know how to stop feeling afraid and how to be OK with failing spectacularly.

What suddenly made sense to me about failing had nothing to do (at least, not directly) with these big, sweeping life decisions. What made sense to me was how many small things I am afraid of failing at every single day and how I make those failures matter so much more than they should. In fact, I realised they’re only failures because I see them as such and make myself feel horribly humiliated about them. What made sense to me was that I feel mortified when I feel things haven’t gone as wished or expected. I worry about controlling things to avoid that mortification and I avoid things when I don’t feel I can adequately predict or control the outcome.

I realised that all I had to do was to stop putting pressure on myself to have everything go perfectly. I realised that I could allow the possibility of imperfection, or even outright disaster, and this permission to fail could encourage me to try. I realised that failues are rarely actually important and do not have to reflect on me and my worth.

To put it all another way, I don’t have to take everything to heart.

Children, let me tell you a little story.

Once, a third supermarket opened at my local shopping centre. I had always happily shopped between the first two, but I thought one day that I would give the new supermarket a try. I walked up to the automatic barriers that swing open to let people into the main part of the supermarket…but they didn’t open. I looked around to see if there was another entrance, but this was all I could see. I approached the barriers a few more times, but they never opened. Looking around embarassedly to see if anyone had noticed me attempting to walk into immovable barriers, I skulked away. This all took only a minute, but I have never been back to that supermarket for fear of another humilating failure to enter the store.

Now, with the benefit of my Amazing Failure and Humilation Revelation (TM), I’m learning to let go of the feelings of failure and humilation that I attach to situations like that – and even to much less goofy situations. I’m breaking it down into its tiniest parts and trying to remove those negative feelings. Something like this: If I couldn’t find my way in, that means that I was unable at the time to notice something. It doesn’t mean that I am a fundamentally stupid person and it does not mean that anybody else would generalise a single moment of confusion to mean that I am an inherently stupid person. And, perhaps most importantly, If I did look like a fool to everyone for sixty seconds, does it really matter? Maybe it’s quite OK to look foolish.

What I find amazing about my new realisation is how I keep finding new ways that this fear of failure and humilation is hindering me.

Sometimes, my Dad and I have honest miscommunications about unimportant, everyday things (particularly since Mum died and we only have each other to talk to at home). Dad frequently reacts by getting frustrated or by getting offended because he’s misinterpreted my tone. Although he forgets about it all the next minute, it leaves me feeling hurt, feeling stupid, feeling blamed, and feeling humiliated by that sense of blame. I now realise that communicating with Dad makes me anxious. I tie myself in knots trying to change the way I express and explain myself and desperately try to avoid him getting upset with me. All my efforts are invariably futile, because our ways of thinking are just too different. I’m left stewing, feeling crushed and frustrated and unhappy.

This week, I realised that I needed to stop making it matter so much. I realised that Dad, at 70 years, is probably not going to suddenly develop a flexible and attuned understanding of my conversation despite my efforts. I realised that I take any evidence of frustration and any hint of blame directly to heart. I need to remember that it is alright to not succeed at making him understand. I need to learn to drop things when there is miscommunication because these are not important things. If Dad does get upset, I need o remember that this is not a failure on my part, it’s just something he does (often over the most innocent, unpredictable things!).

Of course, it’s not actually that easy. I can’t just tell myself not to get upset, because I don’t have an emotional switch like that. So I thought of something to help me be OK with a conversation disintegrating. I’m going to think “Silly Daddy!” just like Peppa Pig often says. And I need to remember that it’s alright if this doesn’t immediately make me a happier person because every little bit of practice will help.

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About Zaiene

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life I am inspired by so many different ideals of how to live a happy, fulfilled and productive life but struggle to get around to it. Large scale changes are intimidating and difficult to sustain, so this is my bite-sized life experiment. Each week*, I will find one thing in my life to drop and one thing to add. I will try to drop things that have a negative, unhealthy or over-absorbing effect on my life. I will try to add things that will have a positive, healthy, empowering or useful effect on my life. The experiment is to see whether I can cope with these changes and whether they really do improve my life. *(I began it as each weekend, as a less intimidating challenge. After about ten months, I felt that I wanted whole-week - well, Monday-to-Friday - challenges.)
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