I don’t like failure. Failure is not fun and the fear of it stops me from taking chances – too often. I take it personally. It hits how I value myself. There is a lot of good information out there about what we can learn from failure… that it doesn’t have to impact how we see ourselves, that we can learn much from trying and failing… Thinking about this, I can say, “Yep, I get it.” Feeling this, being able to act upon it, that is another story.
I still act, I still take chances when failure is a possibility. I do everything I can to succeed in what I attempt. Wanting to succeed is a strong motivator; fear of failure motivates me as well. But the nagging feeling behind the fear often does more harm than good.
Smaller acts/choices/risks are often easier since I do not have as much invested. Bigger choices and risks are more difficult and the decision takes time. Serious thought, hemming and hawing, and procrastination all enter the picture.
Before my first attempt at graduate school, I spent a year-and-a-half trying to decide if I should go; where I should go and what I should study. My thoughts bounced back and forth like a ping pong ball. I journaled my thoughts so I could see them more clearly. I asked friends for their opinions – mostly to help validate whichever view I had at the moment.
I finally decided, “Yes, this is what I want to do!” Yet, in the final push to make the decision, I ignored the arguments that should have been “deal breakers”.
It lasted a month, then I dropped out.
I failed at something that had consumed so much of me – my thoughts, time, energy and money. I beat myself up for weeks. Yet it didn’t take long to see what had happened. I went back to my journals – my thoughts were in front of me in black and white. Why hadn’t I paid attention to those deal breakers? What was I thinking? Was I deceived by my own thoughts?
Before entering school, I had not been able to sort out my thoughts and interests enough. It wasn’t from lack of trying. I believe there is a saying, “You don’t know what the water will feel like until you jump in.”
Once I was in school, I quickly realized it was not what I wanted. Being there for a few weeks clarified thoughts that I had not been able to sort out in eighteen months. The deal breakers became evident. I no longer had to sucker friends into telling me their views in order to get support for my own.
Failing – or rather, trying and failing – set me free in a sense. The second-guessing and procrastination of the prior year-and-a-half were gone. And while the agony of defeat was strong, it was tempered by, “Okay, now what?”
I’ve learned this lesson numerous times. I would think by now that I’ve learned it often enough. Maybe someday – if I keep trying, if I keep more realistic views going in. Not so much that I will have everything figured out, or reasoned through so that “it should work”. But, more real in that, “I haven’t done this before”; I’m not entirely sure what is involved; and I may not even know my interest level until I am immersed in what I am trying.
Failure will still be a possibility, but this would go a long way in taking away the fear.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields, including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.