Fear of Failure: How to Tell if You Suffer From it & What To Do

I took a writing class when I was in University. The teacher was wonderful, and she had us do tons of writing exercises every week. One week, she made us write the first draft of a story. By hand.

We had one hour, and the class wrote. And wrote. And wrote. Almost no one finished their story, because we were writing it by hand and there was no way to edit it. In the end, the teacher told us we were doing it wrong, because we tried to write our story perfectly. 

”This exercise isn’t about doing it perfectly. It’s about getting it done.

I knew then and there that was something I struggled with. I didn’t want to do anything less than perfect, scared that she would read my story and not like it, which to me, was the worst kind of failing.

The next lesson, she had us do the writing exercise again. This time, my handwriting was sloppy, my sentences weren’t perfect and I hated the dialogue in my story. But I finished it, and it felt great. It’s important to just finish it, you can always edit later was a lesson I learned that day.

Fear of failure is a very real reaction of your mind – it protects you from perceived threats, for the most part. It’s not wrong to fear failure on some cases, but when it dictates your life, it can definitely become a problem.

7 Signs You May Have Fear of Failure

Note: the following are not official diagnostics, but these characteristics are common in people that have an extreme fear of failure.

  • Failing makes you worry about what other people think of you
  • You compare your failures with the failures of other people
  • Failing makes you worry about how capable you are
  • You tell people beforehand that you don’t expect to succeed in something
  • You apologize beforehand just in case you fail
  • Once you fail at something, it’s difficult to imagine what you could have done to prevent the failure
  • you often get headaches, stomach aches, sweaty hands and other anxiety symptoms when you’re fearing a failure

I Have Fear of Failure, What Now?

The biggest problem people with fear of failure deal with is that the feeling is often unconscious. It’s not as simple as just shutting it off.

One of the most common moments to feel the fear of failure is when you’re doing something that’s outside your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is more than just a concept; pushing these boundaries trigger very real neuro-physiological reactions of the mind’s threat system. If you stay within these boundaries, you will feel safe, there will be no fear of failure. But if you’re brave and get outside of your comfort zone (where all the  magic happens) you will have to deal with that feeling – fearing failure often feels unsafe, uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing.

fear of failure

The Myth of Fearlessness

For a long time, I thought that people who were fearless never felt fear – but I have since come to realize that isn’t the case. Instead, people who are fearless do things despite the fear.

Successful people seem fearless in particular, but it’s all a matter of how you perceive them. Successful people started out very ordinary and through a combination of practice, hard work, effort, and action achieve their success.

Understanding The Fear

What is it that you fear? Fear of failure often presents itself because we fear – no, expect – the worst outcome in every situation. It also spawns itself in people who strive for unreasonable perfection and those with low self-esteem, because they often fear any form of rejection.

It’s also possible that you failed at something in the past, and now you’re scared of failing at it again.

Focus on Aspects You Can Control

You can’t control everything in life, even though you would love to. If your fear for failure stems from the fear of not being in control, try to reframe aspects to make it feel like you’re more in control. For example, if you’ve failed to find work because you don’t have the right connections, focus on expanding your network. If you want more blog readers but you can’t seem to get them to your website, focus on meeting other bloggers instead.

Owning Fear

In the end, failure makes you a stronger person. One of the most important lessons you will ever learn in life is that failure doesn’t define you. If you have trouble expressing these feelings, consider talking to a therapist about it. Talking about your fear of failure and learning how to reflect on what happened might be exactly what you need.

When all you feel is shame and insecurity about your past failures, it becomes incredibly hard to think about them as lessons – often it becomes impossible to think of them as what they are because you just cringe at the memory and want to hide it deep in your brain.

Failures are just events that end up making you stronger in the future. Because of that, they’re anything but a waste of time. Everyone fails before they succeed, and if you fail today, you’re just one failure closer to success.

fear of failure tips

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