Face Your Fears: How to Handle Failure

Author: Alexandra Salerno, MS, NCC

Imagine you’re minutes away from giving one of the most important speeches of your career. You’ve prepared for this moment for months; reviewing and revising your thoughts, clarifying talking points, rehearsing out loud, and memorizing your lines. All of a sudden, a moment of dread hits and you think to yourself, “what if I mess up?”

Fear of failure is a common issue that people experience when it comes to performing. It’s easy to think about all of the things that could go wrong in a situation, especially when we have worked so hard to prepare for things to go well.

Fear of failure can elicit feelings of disappointment, shame, embarrassment, guilt, and regret.  Due to the strong nature of these feelings, a person may find him/herself actively avoiding situations where failure could occur.  Ultimately, by staying away from the things that scare us, we teach ourselves that we can avoid these situations – and we can avoid our fears.

Fear of failure can show up in a variety of ways. Some examples are:

  • Concern for what others think about you
  • Fear of not being able to pursue your future goals
  • Worry that others may lose interest in you
  • Afraid to disappoint supports (family members, friend, coaches, teammates)
  • Experiencing physical symptoms (headaches, fatigue, stomach pains) that make it difficult to prepare for or attend your sport, ect.
  • Becoming easily distracted by small obstacles
  • Increase in procrastination or “running out of time”
  • Difficulty imagining yourself succeeding
  • Setting lower standards for yourself
  • Fear of not being “smart enough” if you fail

Even though failure can be difficult and challenging, working to accept that it is part of learning and life can be very beneficial both the short-term and long-term. Just as we accept positive experiences, negative experiences allow us to learn and problem-solve for the future. Now you may be wondering – how do I even begin to do this?

Owning your fear is the first step; accepting failure and using it as a tool to improve your skills and mindset.  By doing this, you are practicing resilience, and proving to yourself that you are able to bounce back and reset. You are also acknowledging that even though things may not go as planned, you have the ability to redirect your mindset and feelings of self-worth. Think about this: when you meet someone new, do you judge their fears, or respect their ability to overcome challenges and move forward?

Focus on what you can control is the second step. Focus on the areas you can control and set smaller goals that are achievable and important to you. This allows you to feel in control of your actions/mind and reinforces your ability to regain control of things that feel out of control.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.” Fear and failure are scary, and you have the ability to refocus, trust yourself and make it great!

Resources:

Winch, G. 2013. 10 signs that you might have fear of failure. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201306/10-signs-you-might-have-fear-failure