Failure, that scary monster
Have you ever felt fear of failure? Has this fear stopped you from making a decision? Is failure the big, scary monster that makes you hesitate?
Personally, I don’t believe in failure, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. I do believe in mistakes and feeling afraid of making them. But failure and mistakes are completely different things, characters of a different story. While mistakes leave an open door to correct the course of action, failure has a dark, permanent tone -something like the scarlet letter that you will have to wear for everybody to see and judge.
Failure, just like success, are words that attempt to summarize complete human stories and compare them to what society believes to be ideal. In simpler words: failure is how the cool kids describe not being cool. And just like the hairy monster that you thought lived under your bed, the minute you stop accepting it as a reality, it vanishes.
Are you accepting the rules of a game you don’t want to play?
For failure to really be “a thing” we would need to agree to the following assumptions:
There’s only one, “right” way to do things. While our society values innovation in technology, it seems to dislike innovation in the way we function as a group. Innovation involves imagining new ways to achieve a specific goal and testing these approaches to see what happens. This is pure scientific method! Accepting failure as a possibility in your life means assuming that there is only one set of goals to achieve and one way to do it. Most probably, the goals and ways of those in the position to impose their ideas on others. Are you feeling rebellious? Would you like to make this world a better place? Start by rejecting the concept of failure.
Everybody’s lives develop in the same circumstances. This assumption is based on the acceptance of “normality.” If instead of individuals we were clones, living in the exact same controlled situation, there might be some validity in assessing each clone’s achievements and comparing performance between them. But we are not clones. We are individuals with a million different characteristics, experiences, and skills that make us who we are. Failure, as a judgment of the value of our experiences, can only be seen through the eyes of privilege.
Failure is final. In many ways, our society (and ourselves) use “failure” a sentence, as a final judgment from where redemption is not possible. It’s hard to imagine how to climb up from a dark pit, how to continue the journey when we reach a dead end. Accepting failure as a possibility is like carrying rocks in your backpack: once you get rid of them, you will have more journeys and find more joy in them just because you are traveling lighter.
A flashlight to chase away the monsters
Even if you decide not to play the cool kids game, years of conditioning can take their toll and keep you experiencing real fear of failure. (Note that “real” refers to your fear, not to the concept of failure.)
Just as you did when you were five, the best way to vanish the monster from under the bed is to start seeing it by what it is: the perception that other people have about what your life should be. In lieu of a flashlight, I can offer you these questions to shed light when the fear of failure haunts your decisions:
Why did I choose the outcomes or goals that I’m not achieving?
It could be that you’re pursuing certain goals because they will get you someone else’s approval. Maybe you are walking a path that everyone thinks is great but you’re not enjoying it that much. Don’t underestimate yourself: human brains get creative with behaviors to avoid what is meaningless. If your answer to this question includes pleasing someone or making somebody proud, I invite you to ask yourself what would make YOU proud.
What if I keep on swimming?
Sometimes, the only way to find out where you’re going is to keep on going. In Finding Dory, an animated movie, the main character is trying to get to her family and keeps forgetting where to go. She learns that, as she keeps on swimming, memories of home come back to her. If you don’t take action because of fear to make mistakes, you will never discover how to achieve that goal or build that cathedral.
Am I taking exactly the same actions and expecting that they work out differently?
This is a tricky one. Continuing with the idea of applying the scientific method, experiments are valuable because they produce data that help us improve our methods and actions. Journaling is a great tool to keep track of your action steps and decisions to see if there are some patterns that are keeping you stuck in the same results.
So, what are you going to do to get rid of the Failure monster?