We’re all afraid of something. Spiders, dogs, flying, the dark. It doesn’t matter what makes your heart beat too fast and your mind shout blue murder, we’ve all felt that knotty stomach ache of fear. When you’re afraid of failure though, you feel like that all the time. It’s hard to explain exactly what fear of failure is, and it might actually be a fear of judgement or rejection, but fear of failure works as a catch-all descriptor. I’ve been known to practice ordinary conversations before meeting friends so that I won’t say something silly, I’ve turned up to appointments an hour early and lurked in the car park so that I wouldn’t be late, I’ve pretended I’m not afraid of heights so that I don’t look incompetent in front of colleagues and I’ve had nervous power-vomits in the middle of jiu jitsu grading when the thought of public performance overwhelmed me.
Lately I’ve been trying to do things outside my comfort zone and I’ve learnt that doing things you’re afraid of, things you might fail at, doesn’t make you less afraid of failure, it just teaches you that failure won’t kill you. That being embarrassed isn’t the worst thing in the world, that people who matter will rarely judge you for your failures, and that I judge myself more harshly than I’d judge anybody else.
Often it feels like taking unpleasant medicine though. I know some people can let go of their fear and approach things with nervous excitement, but I tend more towards grim determination and surliness. I doubt I will ever actually enjoy situations where I could fail or be judged, but I can get through them. After all, what’s the alternative? I’d probably never leave the house. If doing things you’re afraid of is the unpleasant medicine, an interesting and varied life is the cure and the result.
This year, I tried to donate blood twice and spectacularly fainted both times and the Red Cross has since asked me to never (ever) return. I definitely failed at overcoming my physical response to needles, but am generally quite content with having attempted to be a civic minded adult. At least I can say that I tried right?
I took my medicine and attended two jiu jitsu gradings despite feeling as if I would actually pass out from nerves. The whole public-performance-where-I-can’t-control-the-variables is pretty much one of my worst nightmares especially when it’s combined with the possibility of being choked. I don’t actually remember much of either day, lost as as they are in the mists of terror and nervous vomiting, but I have two stripes on my belt to tell me that I survived them both intact.
I recently turned down the prospect of continuing on in a job I hate in favour of being honest about wanting something new (and scary) next year because I realised that I’d rather try and possibly fail at something than spend my waking days having my will to live sucked out of me through sheer unmitigated boredom.
I’ve also signed up for an entire 4.5months of non-stop change and new experiences. In languages other than English and places other than home. Tackling this much travel alone would ordinarily plunge me straight into grim determination mode but I’m trying something new. Deliberate nonchalance and carefully planned spontaneity. Surely, short of being arrested, there are few ways to fail at travel? Escaping Canberra counts as success already, never mind trying to get people to understand my appalling Spanish/French/Arabic/Italian/Turkish.
Just like feeling better after taking medicine, doing things despite being afraid of failure generally leads to better things. So I’m going to keep holding my nose and downing that medicine because the alternative definitely doesn’t seem worth it.