The Fear of Failing

Failure is one of those non-tangible fears that we all suffer from at some point in our lives.  Fear of rejection, not wanting to rock the boat, “why fix it if it ain’t broken” . . . all are some form of a fear of failing.

It’s actually the biggest fear I have.  I’m not afraid of heights, or spiders or snakes.  I’m not even afraid of dying; not that I’m itching for it to happen anytime soon either.  But fear of failure has delayed my progress in many areas over the course of my life.

When I was growing up, I didn’t ask guys out on dates too often because I was afraid they’d reject me.  Whenever I get up to sing karaoke, I’m afraid to get too into the music because I don’t want my voice to warble so much that the song doesn’t sound right.  I still get up there and sing (I LOVE to sing), but I stand extremely still and don’t look at too many people . . . Madonna, I am not.

I don’t let my fear of failure hold me back for too long though, mainly because I don’t want to live my life in fear.  But lately, it’s because I’ve come to look it in a different light than I used to.

There’s a great quote that gets said quite often at my Weight Watchers meetings that’s helped me put failing into a new perspective:

There is no failure . . . only feedback

When I truly listened to this phrase, it was like a light bulb went off in my head.  What a great way to think about it!  It’s one of the things that I so admire in children.  They try all sorts of things, not worrying whether or not they’ll succeed.  Actually, they’re pretty positive they will succeed, but more importantly, they’re in it for the experience.  Their curious nature just wants to know what it feels, tastes, sounds like.  They don’t judge themselves a failure when they discover they don’t like something, or get hurt by something.  It’s still simply feedback to them.

Thinking of things as feedback now, I find that I feel freer when deciding whether or not I want to do something.  There are still times that I beat myself up if I don’t get it right – one or two days will not undo more than 20 years of mental conditioning – but even when I chastise myself, there’s a little voice inside soothing things over with acceptance and the mantra of “Feedback, not failure”.

Probably one of the biggest advocates for trying over and over again until you get it right is Thomas Edison:

I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

What an amazing way to think about something that hasn’t worked TEN THOUSAND times . . . it boggles my mind that Mr. Edison was willing to stick with it for that long; that he had such an unwaivering belief in what he wanted to make happen.  When compared to his perseverance, I feel like such a wimp when I want to give up on something after only a handful of tries.

There’s another great quote that helps put failure into perspective:

You can’t have any successes unless you can accept failure. ~ George Cukor

George’s quote reminds me of other things I’ve heard that suggest that one must accept their current reality before they can truly travel to a new one.  Much like a caterpillar on its way to becoming a butterfly, we must be willing to sit in our cocoon, using all that we’ve learned previously to assist us in our growth.

The next two quotes put an even more positive spin on failing:

You always pass failure on your way to success ~ Mickey Rooney

Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure . . . it just means you haven’t succeeded yet. ~ Robert Schuller

Those quotes are great reminders that, even when you’re “failing” at something, it’s not the end-all, be-all.  It’s merely one step in the process of success.  If we can keep that in mind, maybe we won’t think of failure as such a bad thing.

What phrases help to fortify you when things don’t quite turn out like you hoped?

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dana
    Apr 08, 2011 @ 10:50:27

    Favorite quote ever: A life lived in fear is a life half lived.

    This literally changed my way of thinking and my life. 🙂

    Reply

  2. Trina
    Apr 08, 2011 @ 20:31:50

    I don’t have a favorite fear quote to throw out, but I’m sure liking that one by Thomas Edison. Kind of hard to feel bummed over single digit failures, huh?

    Reply

  3. Maddy
    Apr 09, 2011 @ 11:06:24

    Not so much a quote but a useful fact = Jonas Salk failed to find a Polio vaccine 306 times, but he was successful of the 307th.

    Reply

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