I’m curious, what do you know to be true of your fear of failure?
Part 3 of the 5-part series on The Fear of Failure by Diana Gabriel, Certified Strengths Strategy Coach.We may choose an attitude of fear in an effort to prevent failure, but it backfires when fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Click To Tweet
We’ve been talking about the challenges that leaders face. One of the big ones is fear of failure, even though many refuse to admit to anyone that they may be feeling it.
Robert Kelsey, author of What’s Stopping You?: Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can (Capstone, 2012), offers some background on the causes. Several factors contribute to developing a fear of failure. Growing up around fearful people can play a role, as can a lack of positive adult role models or an absence of affirmation for risk-taking activities. Children in these environments struggle to learn optimism, perseverance, and self-confidence in their decision-making capacity. Past humiliations and rejections can harm one’s risk-taking spirit to the point of being fearful.
Having expectations for a specific goal that are too high transforms the goal into an unrealistic objective. This can distort reality to the point of obsession and can magnify the fear or possibility of failure. The dire need to obtain something creates the illusion that life will be awful if the goal is not accomplished—the consequent failure becomes upsetting or traumatic even. This all-or-nothing perspective has a potentially crushing outcome, one to be truly aware of.
Perhaps the common denominator for all causes of fear of failure is an overarching sense of purposelessness or worthlessness—or, as University of Ottawa psychologist Timothy Pychyl describes it, a low sense of self.
Our culture often convinces us that losing face is to be avoided at all costs, adds Kelsey. Regardless of our background, nothing feels as hopeless as life without meaning. Rejection or humiliation from failure can prompt feelings of worthlessness. At this level of despair, we may choose an attitude of fear in an effort to prevent failure, but it backfires when fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.