Friday, September 14, 2007

Fear of Failure

I just started reading the book "What Happy People Know", written by Dan Baker and one of the primary messages of the book is that our fears keep us from being happy above all else (I'll tell you if the book is worth a read when I post a book review for it here).

Specifically, he points to fear of not having enough and fear of not being enough as keeping us from living our ideal life. Both the fear of not having enough and not being enough are similar to what I think holds back a number of overachievers: the fear of failure. Why are we afraid?

  • We've been taught that failure is bad
  • We don't want it to tarnish our glowing record of achievement
  • There's the social pressure of others judging us based on their expectations
  • We have high expectations for ourselves and would be disappointed in our abilities
  • Our sense of self largely comes from our accomplishments.
Failure is largely an unknown experience for overachievers. It's an area we don't understand and I think it's the biggest contributing factor to our fear of it.

It's no mystery that we haven't failed much - we've gone to good schools, done well in our activities, and usually have had some kind of safety net to keep us from really failing. Because we haven't had much exposure to failure, we shy away from things that might be risky or lead to failure - starting a new business, taking up a new hobby, or competing seriously.

If we have a fear of water or don't know how to swim, we stay away from pools, oceans, and other risky situation. Similarly, we shy away from situations that might present us with failure because we don't know how to swim in those waters.

I say that we should practice failure so we're not afraid of it. It would be really hard for us knowingly choose failure as an outcome, but we should be open to it and embrace the things that don't go our way. I've often thought of creating "Failure Camp" so overachievers can practice failing in a safe environment. With a mix of difficult situations/activities, the focus would be on taking risks, dealing with failure, and then "bouncing back".
  • Would you attend Failure Camp?
  • Do you think most overachievers are held back by their fear of failure?

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