Everyone is afraid of failure. Like success, it can occur in almost any aspect of our lives, be it personal, financial or professional. Sometimes it is a lurking anxiety in the back of our minds, but it can also stop us doing things we want to do. Fear of failure can therefore limit our ability to take risks, and be successful in ways that matter to us.
Change is coming
Overcoming fear of failure is about understanding that we have the freedom to change the narratives of our lives. By choosing to take or avoid a risk, you actively participate in a decision that could change your current path. So, by taking said risk, you acknowledge that failure (and success) are both potential outcomes. Giving up alcohol is an example of something that could be seen as a risk. It presents challenges and requires dedication, but also carries the possibilities of both success and failure. The combination of hope and pessimism this creates causes fear, and reluctance to take the leap of faith.
However, fear of failure doesn’t usually present itself as simply that. It can be masked by other emotions, actions and anxieties. Delaying or procrastinating from something is because of the fear of what might happen when you take the next step. Therefore, almost all laziness is, at heart, fear.
Time (or lack of it) is also a significant factor. Most of the decisions we make are consciously or unconsciously influenced by the sense that we have limited time to do the things we want to do. We look back at things we never attempted with regret, which in itself is a form of fear. We worry that we didn’t do certain things while we had the chance, and also worry about doing them in the future. This gives the fear of failure an edge of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.
Telling yourself you can
People who fear failure usually find themselves plagued by an overly harsh or unjust inner critic. This could be the wine witch, your inner voice, or even the voice of one of your parents. Whatever form it takes, it is self-critical and blameful. It gives you the impression that you are fundamentally flawed. It can cause you to think “I should” more than “I want”, and be overly harsh when you slip up or fall off the wagon.
Our inner voices are our worst persecutors. We shouldn’t treat ourselves any more harshly than we would treat a friend or acquaintance who came to us and revealed a problem or personal failure. We would comfort that friend, console them, and suggest solutions to get them back on track. So why aren’t we more like this when it comes to ourselves?
Answer: because we think that we won’t survive failure. We think “if I cave in and have a drink, this is it” or “if alcohol breaks up my relationship, my life is over”. Combatting the fear of failure is therefore about understanding that it isn’t over. If you end up having a drink, you will probably feel obscenely guilty, go to bed, wake up, re-start the tally from day one, and survive. If you lose your relationship, you will probably move out, cry, then a couple of years later your friends will persuade you to go on a date. Again, you survive.
Cut yourself some slack
It helps to see failures in isolation rather than as part of the bigger picture of how we define ourselves. Failing doesn’t make you a failure. Success in one area usually means you fail in other. Really, rather than being simply a success or a failure, we should talk about success and failure in X or Y area. We are all varied and complex individuals who sometimes do things well, and sometimes do them badly.
Think about what you do in the day, whether it is your job, your role at home, or the challenge of giving up alcohol. People know you do these things because you tell them, and they see you doing them. But what about the bits they don’t see? What about those small bits of extra commitment, dedication, talent and energy that others miss? If someone was painting you in these private moments, what would they see? Most likely, it wouldn’t be someone who could be called a failure.