Illness Army: “Fear Of Failure”

I just opened my email account for this blog, and have found numerous entries for Illness Army! Thank you for sending them in, and I apologise for my absence and delay in reposting them. I have been incredibly busy, and distracted.

If you would like me to share a post that details your Chronic Illness, or highlights a memory along your journey, or maybe you would just like to share hope for other sufferers – please check out our Submissions Guidelines Page!

Here is a post from my good blogging friend, Matt.
A short excerpt from the author: “Anxiety and Depression can make us all feel so incredibly alone, when in fact we’re not. Millions of people all around the world suffer from the same debilitating illnesses, but we can’t always see that. On my blog I try to address that, I try to be constructive, to make a positive difference in both my life and in yours”.
You can find Matt at insilencewesuffer.wordpress.com

For as long as I can remember I have had a fear of failure. I think it must have been ingrained me as a child whilst I was growing up. I hold it accountable for a lot of my mental health problems that I’ve since developed, namely my struggles with stress and anxiety which can often lead to bouts of depression.

To tell the truth, my relationship with failure is more than a little awkward, I guess some would describe it as –love hate: failure loves me, but I hate him. Or at least that’s the way I used to feel about him. I’d try to avoid him, but he’d always be one step ahead of me, just waiting to jump out at me and take me by surprise.

I used to be petrified of making a mistake (I say used to, I still am, generally speaking, but I’m trying to be a little more forgiving of myself these days). At primary school I learnt a lot. I learnt to read and write, my numeracy was pretty good too – I was a weird child, one of those kids who absolutely loves their times tables! This carried on to my secondary school. I did really well, on the whole, passing my GCSE exams with flying colours, but then disaster struck. I had my first real taste of failure the following year, and I didn’t know how to respond. It’s only now I realise that in spite of learning about trigonometry and iambic pentameter, photosynthesis and latin, I had not learnt about failure.

My secondary school had this technique, where instead of teaching us that failing was not a big deal, that it really was ok, as long as we then took on board the lessons learned, they taught me to fear it. Failure was something to be avoided, at all costs. I think being at such an elitist school meant that with every exam paper I sat there was a real danger to my status. Exams weren’t just a threat to my marks, they were a threat to my ego too; my reputation as a clever student was on the line with come exam day. When the inevitable fall came, I didn’t know how to react. The way my school had taught me to look at failure made me feel incompetent and inept.

I’ve since learned, primarily through the trial and error of everyday life, that mistakes are an inevitable part of our everyday interaction with a complex world. This is precisely why learning from them is so essential.

I came across the following quote recently, and I thought I’d share it with you all, as it has an interesting outlook on our relationship with failure. It teaches us to embrace failure, to study all possible outcomes and to accept that every now and again we can be wrong. “The desire for perfection rests upon two fallacies. The first resides in the miscalculation that you can create the optimal solution sitting in a bedroom or ivory tower and thinking things through rather than getting out into the real world and testing assumptions, thus finding their flaws … The second fallacy is the fear of failure… You spend so much time designing and strategizing that you don’t get a chance to fail at all, at least until it is too late … You are so worried about messing up that you never even get on the field of play.” (Matthew Syed, Black Box Thinking)

Failure continues to haunt me. Along with my struggles with anxiety, it has limited my risk taking, and consequently my expectations from life. I hope that these words can help anyone that reads them, even if it is only the knowledge that they aren’t alone in their fear of failure. Whilst I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet (I can’t play the trumpet – music isn’t one of my fortes come to think of it!) often it is those of us who are the most successful who are also the most vulnerable. We have received so much praise for our seemingly flawless performances that we haven’t learned to deal with the setbacks that confront us all at some point in our lives. We should regard failures as an inevitable consequence of the mismatch between the complexity of life and our capacity to understand it. It’s only with a more accepting attitude towards failure that we will learn its lessons. Don’t take it to heart.

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12 comments

  1. These lessons seem to be the hardest to learn. It’s ironic because I just posted something like this the other day! It was indeed a good reminder and refresher that failure isn’t always a bad thing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, the most important lessons are always the hardest to learn, but once we do, progress can be made more easily. Oh cool, I must go check it out! More than anything it is our attitude to failure that needs to change.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can relate and I LOVE the quote. While in school I was more of a wild child formed in chaos (choosing to ‘not chose’ meant that any failure was not my fault). Risk taking, bad choices and pushing my perfectionism far away was how I managed. Now that I’m grown I’ve found my anxiety around failure returned and am really trying to consciously separate the important things to NOT fail at (eg. feeding the children), and the times that it’s ok to let it slide and learn from (burning a slice of toast). It is a daily struggle, but I am becoming aware that I learn better and more from small failures along the way than obsessing over perfection.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can certainly relate to avoid something as a means of avoiding being wrong! That’s a good place to start I think, separating the unimportant things from the important ones and allowing yourself to fail, or at least not to beat yourself up when you do. Perfection is a myth, it’s something I’m starting to come to terms with now too!

      Liked by 1 person

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