Fear of Failure

One of the most common fears we as humans have is the fear of failure. This fear can immobilize us from taking any action which, at the end of the day, just stops us from progressing and only leads to use sabotage ourselves from any chance we have for success. It is for this reason that I would like to go over some of the reason why we are so afraid of failing.

  1. Wrongly Defined
    You need to ask yourself what is your definition of failure? Are you defining what failure is or are you taking someone else's definition? For example, for someone who strives to be the best, it may mean to get more than 90% in an exam whereas another person may take it as being anything below 50%.

    One thing to note is that when you are part of an organization you may receive a radial promotion, which is when your boss starts to trust you and asks you to be part of his "group". Many people see this as a failure as what they would have liked if a vertical promotion. However, what we don't realize is that a radial promotion usually precedes a vertical one, so in no way does it mean you have failed.

    You need to look at yourself and see if what you deem to be a failure is really a failure? Often, we are to hard on ourselves which just hampers us in our progress.

  2. Perception of Rejection
    This a major stumbling block as we often think that we will be rejected and "discarded" when we fail. This isn't really true! When someone in your circle of friends or acquaintances fails we don't normally shun or exclude them, so why do we have this perception on ourselves. The quicker we can overcome this fallacy, the further and better we will progress.

  3. Exaggeration
    Often we exaggerate the outcomes should we fail. We may say things like, "If I'm not able to do this code kata, I'm a really poor software developer" which leads us to have a distorted view of what the consequence would be of failure. In reality, just because you struggled on some kata doesn't mean you aren't talented and excellent in other areas of software development.

  4. Value Equivalence
    Another thing that we often do is we make up these associations that if you fail at a particular aspect, such as struggling to understand functional programming, you aren't not intelligent enough to be a good software developer. You start to "punish" yourself in subtle ways such saying that you don't deserve to be in such a great company cause you really are a poor developer. One thing that I can say, is don't link failure to punishment!

  5. Fear of Unfair Judgement
    We tend to have this fear that other people won't understand us and judge us by saying "You are not good enough!" Often you will find that your sunshine yellows often struggle with this and make assumptions that the team leader or manager "doesn't like people like me!". However, if you just sit down and think about it, often these views are unfounded and not necessarily true.

  6. Being Blamed
    You may find that the fear of failure is actually rooted in your fear of being blamed. You fear that your colleagues or team leads will come to you and say "It was your fault that we had that bug and cause the organization to lose money!" At the end of the day, the company will still survive and more often than not it was an honest mistake, after all no one is perfect and it happens to the best of us. I once read that the things that we fear the most are the things that have already happened to us and I cannot agree more!.

  7. Unable to Bounce Back
    This is linked to the 3rd point in that when we fail, we exaggerate the consequences. As such, you to go to the extreme and things like "I will never become a systems architect cause I couldn't even solve that business problem".

    Some people express this by saying things like "I didn't want to say anything in the team discussion, because I don't want to look stupid if I was wrong". What you need to do is become comfortable with yourself when you do "something stupid". Often people will either laugh at it or discuss it and move on. Again, everyone has these moments, so don't be afraid of them!

    If you look back in your life you will realize that you have had these moments where you did bounce back, so don't get yourself into a rut and mindset where you don't believe it is possible.

  8. Disapproval
    This fear if often quite extreme as it occurs when a person with low self-esteem interacts with a someone who hold positions of authority. They then get this fear that their boss will disapprove of them and once they have the perception of you, it will never change. This can then have a knock on effect as the person may shy away from providing their services or giving an opinion about a topic as they have this irrational perception of disapproval.

    The reality of the situation is that even if you were seen in a negative light, you probably would have proven yourself since then, and their viewpoint of you has changed. So don't go chasing phantom ghosts by trying to prove yourself again, in the end you may exhaust yourself and focus on the wrong things.

  9. Distorted Sense of Validation
    Sometimes we look for a sense of validation in the completely wrong place. This again is linked to people whom have a low self-esteem as they tend to find their sense of worthiness externally. You need to find your own self worth and by doing that you will see that you stop looking for external validation.

  10. Habit
    Once we fall into this pit of failure we tend to make it a habit and are very hard on ourselves. Often you will see that this manifests itself when you start to feel guilty about not doing some work, or when you see someone else being busy. You start to hear your inner voice saying "If you don't go and work, you are lazy!"

    New parents often also struggle with these inner voices when they leave their kid with their grandparents and go out and watch a movie or something. They have this voice telling them that they are bad parents cause they should be looking after their kids, ask me how I know ;) The fact of the matter is that couples need that time to just relax and reconnect again, as looking after a little kid can really take it out of you.

As you can see, most of the issues with failure are a result of our minds making the after effects seem real, when in reality it is nowhere near that. Learn to pick yourself up, clear your mind and believe that you can do it. Often, all it takes is a mindset change and you can achieve so much more!

Until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa