Breaking the Fear of Failure ~ Part 3


Reaching your summitIn previous posts about the fear of failure, we addressed the questions of “How will I fix the mistake?” and “Will I be able to recover from the mistake?”. But sometimes the most terrifying part is if others – especially those close to us – will ridicule and reject us for making the mistake.


This can come in a variety of forms including negativity (“It’s impossible”), self-righteousness (“I told you so”), rejection (being excluded, fired or turned down) or outright shaming (“How could you be so stupid!”). Other times, it’s just the looks of silent judgment that can be enough to diminish our self-esteem and self-confidence.


Or NOT. Because these kinds of negative responses often say more about those who say them, than you: they are usually about fear, once again. And how you choose to interpret them, can be largely up to you.


When it comes to our loved ones, it is helpful to recognize that they often harbor their own fears about life, themselves and us. Being close to us means that they are usually somehow emotionally implicated in our decisions and the outcomes, making them less than objective in how they respond to us before and after a “mistake”.


Those who truly want us to succeed may fear for our safety (emotional and otherwise) and in wanting “what’s best for us” may inadvertently impose their own beliefs, emotions and experiences on our situation.


Other loved ones may still, unfortunately, be operating under less than benevolent motives such as jealousy, envy, anger or misery. In this case, their focus may inherently be less about what’s truly best for us and more about defending their own situation and insecurities.


But regardless of their motive or approach, it does not excuse them from taking responsibility for their response, if it be a damaging one. We always have the right to decide – with even our partners, parents, children and friends – if how they respond to our mistakes is genuinely constructive, rather than destructive.


Yet oddly enough, we are often more concerned about how the “general outside masses” will receive us, rather than those who truly know and love us. Bosses, clients and colleagues can impact our professional well-being and it is understandable to be concerned about them – even if at times they are not in the right. Yet these situations can often be managed effectively by following the steps we presented in the previous two posts.


But the truly “external individuals” – neighbors, acquaintances, general peers and the public – while occasionally relevant in their feedback, may judge us irrespective of truly knowing us or our situation. Why? Because blind judgment is a concept based on “black and white” extremes. It is an easy thing to do when you have limited information, but much more difficult when you truly understand the complexities of a person or situation. And for those struggling with their own lives, it’s a mean little fix to make them feel better. But only for the moment, because their issues will haunt them regardless.


Given, then, that these people are reacting based on limited information, we have all the right in the world to evaluate just how truly useful and accurate their perspectives may be. And the ultimate question is: what are they getting out of judging another – a relatively unknown other – with such negativity? Once again, it says more about them than you.


So how do you deal with this?


First, by acknowledging, once again, that to err is human. Learn from it and be ready to admit and take steps to correct it, if possible. But once you have done your part, here are some methods to deal with the people in your life who respond to your mistake in difficult ways.

  • Listen and communicate with those who truly love you and want you to succeed. Those who see your value and respect your unique dreams and ways of being, will not abandon you for your mistake, if you are honest about it. That may mean apologizing or just sincerely discussing the matter, and what can be particularly helpful is asking for their feedback to see if they can assist you in any way. People expect defensiveness and when they are genuinely invited to help, they can offer very useful perspectives, not to mention compassion. Later you can decide what you choose to adopt.
  • Consider carefully how you want to proceed with those close to you that you suspect may be operating under less than helpful motives. Sometimes it can be worth having a conversation but in a neutral moment when tensions are not running high (not in the middle of an argument). However, other times it might make more sense to cool off and let time pass before taking action. They may just need time to adapt such that earlier attempts at communication may only result in the same routine responses. Lastly, if you feel you have done all you can to reach an understanding, if that is what you want, and/or are reasonably confident in your stance, agree to disagree and let it go. Sharing blood or time with someone does not guarantee unconditional support, however much we wish it were the case. And if necessary, it may mean making the difficult – but necessary – decision, to cut the relationship. If someone is plainly against you and continues to do you damage, regardless of the origin of the relationship, the best is to let it end.
  • Evaluate objectively how you choose to deal with the external world. There may be those who, despite not knowing you or the situation very well, can offer helpful insight. They will be the minority and may only be helpful because they have experienced something similar and thus are able to recognize it without extensive information. If you are unsure, check in always with yourself to see if what they are saying reflects a genuine desire to help. But if you see that their reactions are purely selfish and/or destructive in nature, ignore them. The common response to impotence, fear, insecurity and anger is blanket judgment. They have nothing to offer you so distance yourself from them as much as possible.

In the end, you should know about the Spotlight Effect. It is a documented psychological tendency for all of us to over-focus on ourselves, thus over-estimating the degree to which other are paying attention to us. You may walk into a room of strangers thinking that everyone is looking at you but in reality, most are too focused and insecure about themselves, and thus carrying on an incessant internal dialogue about their own concerns.


So the next time you are fearing about what others will think about what you do, remember that your life is your own and the tools to manage your own mistakes – and triumphs! – are ultimately in your hands. If everything goes awry and there is drama for a moment, it will settle because our restless minds are always looking for the next diversion. Even your greatest failure will be old news in no time.


So now take a deep breath, and go for it.


Here are some relevant resources to inspire you:

And we always love to hear your comments, so please share with us below!

  • Share

2 Responses

  1. Great series, Nev. The fear may always exist at some level, but the learned response of backing away can be unlearned and replaced with “It’s okay to be afraid (and to make mistakes along the way), but if this is my dream I need to do it anyway.”

  2. Thank you very much Sandy! And I agree completely. This was one of the main take-aways from your excellent book, The High Diving Board (http://sandyschussel.com/products/sandys-books/), that really complemented my interest on the subject. Most people wait to feel right before they can act, when in fact as you say, it’s acting in spite of the fear that eventually leads to overcoming it. Thank you again!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *