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Fear of Failure

Failure is a word most of us can relate to and understand.

Many of us have experienced failure time and time again throughout our lives. Failure is also regularly discussed within society and by the media so we hear about it often. Defined as ‘lack of success’, failure begins at such a young age and is embedded in our childhood. The education system in particular often doesn’t embrace and encourage failure. Sir Ken Robinson (international advisor on education), describes in his well known Ted Talk, how the school systems don't encourage creativity and are outdated. Children are taught early on that ‘failure’ is about being incorrect, rather than being that important stepping stone to success.

Many people have had a fear of failure at some point in their lives because failure isn’t regarded as an important lesson and valuable way to learn how to succeed. For some of us, that fear of failure still holds us back even as adults. When I reflected on my fear of failure from my past, I thought I had dealt with it and figured it all out. I naively believed I could cross that off my list of painful lessons to learn. However, recently, I was prompted to reflect further on my diminishing, but at times still ever present, fear of failure. This prompt was something very simple and was right in front of my eyes. My baby girl sat in her highchair eating peas!

One lunchtime I was watching my daughter eating her lunch. She picked each pea up with her thumb and forefinger, one by one, and tried to put them in her mouth. It was slow and at times a fruitless process, with probably only a 30% success rate at best. But this did not deter her. She was not bothered. In fact, she was even having fun. She laughed as she missed her mouth entirely and dropped them on the floor for me to pick up. You see she wasn’t afraid of failing or getting it wrong, she just kept trying. She also wasn’t concerned about what I thought of her or what she was doing.

As adults, we can be guilty of talking ourselves out of attempting something for fear of making a mistake or looking foolish.

We often prefer not to try. We don’t want to get it wrong and we worry what others will think of us if we do. Our ego steps in to protect us. Better to stick with what we know, even if we don’t like it, than experience something new or challenging, especially if it doesn’t work out the way we had hoped.

However, fear of failure can cripple and freeze us in a time and place we don’t want to be.

I have been as guilty of this as the next person. I am a recovering perfectionist who has lived with a big fear of failure. I have spent years hiding myself, worrying too much what others think of me, what I do and how I live my life. I have been fearful of judgement or even worse, being ridiculed by others. So finally stepping out of my own shadow, giving things a go and picking myself up each time I fall, has been a slow and challenging process. I don’t claim always to get this right. I am still learning, but I am much better at this than I used to be. When I feel myself going off track, I can catch myself much sooner. I also don’t judge myself in the same way. Judgement isn’t helpful and only makes us and the situation feel much worse. Many of my clients are afraid of failure.

Acknowledging this fear in the first place, continues to be the best way to address it.

They can then begin to work through their limiting beliefs and blocks. Being prepared to give new things a go and follow their passion also means they have moved one step closer to erasing the fear of failure in the long term. Unfortunately, however, this journey isn’t something that just happens overnight and it can often be full of setbacks. But the good news is that it is possible. With enough determination, my clients have shown that every person can not only eliminate their fear but also achieve their dreams and ultimately set themselves free.

So I’m sure that many of you can relate to a fear of failure. However, you too can get one step closer to realizing your dreams if you are prepared to try. Being willing to get it wrong and not worrying so much what others think of you, just like my baby girl eating peas, is also paramount. Learning that it’s none of your business what others think of you, is probably one of the biggest gifts you can give to yourself. Doing these things and also remembering that ‘Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right’ (Henry Ford), will help ensure fear of failure does not remain with you as you travel through your life. How liberating would that be!

With love,

Sarah x


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