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As a generally anxious person, I tend to have a lot of fears. Big ones. Small ones. Daily ones. Yearly ones. There are probably more things I know I don’t want to do than things I want to consider doing by now. So, I’ve essentially boxed myself into this small comfort zone and didn’t see a way out for the longest time (which is ironic since I’m also not fond of being trapped in tight spaces). This past quarter was one of the hardest for me, and I had to face that most of my stress was stemming from a big, overarching fear of failure. 

Laptop and notes on desk
Photo by Andrew Neel from Unsplash

I always figured I had a fear of failure, I mean, who doesn’t? But what I didn’t realize was how much it really impacted me on a day to day basis. For example, I procrastinate, as most students do, and have been procrastinating since high school. Yet, I never really questioned why I felt the need to wait until the last minute to simultaneously start working and freaking out about my potential grade. Looking back I see that the procrastination is both self-sabotage and a coping mechanism. I wait so that by the time I start working, I have to rush, which means if I don’t get the grade or outcome I want, I can blame it on the time limit rather than my own capabilities. I don’t give myself the full, allotted time because if I spend all of my effort on it then don’t get the desired grade after that, there’s no excuse to help push away the feeling of failure. I would have to face it head on. 

And this has seeped into other aspects of my life too, to the point where I’ll overthink about applying to a position if I think I won’t succeed in it or worry about hanging out with new people if I think they won’t like me. Failure can mean so many things in our minds and show up in so many ways. But the more I think about it, the more I see it doesn’t exist. Failure is a construct like any other. We get to decide what success and failure looks like to us, not the other way around. The only reason I feared these outcomes was because I feared the feelings I assumed would come along with them: incompetence, rejection, unworthiness. Yet, if I can change my mindset to focus on alternate resulting feelings, like being proud of my work regardless or being excited for the next opportunity to come, then I could reset my look on failure. At the bare minimum, with every failure comes a lesson and that in and of itself is something to see positively. Every rejection is a redirection to something bigger and better. 

Woman with chin-length hair and a black turtleneck sits on a couch with her laptop and papers.
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

So, especially with finals week, I’ve been trying to find ways to help alleviate my fear of failure and the stress that comes with it because I don’t want to let it run my life anymore. I don’t want to be holding my breath ‘til the end of every quarter and not relaxing ‘til the grades are in, or stopping myself from trying a new experience because I am unsure that the outcome will be good. I want to enjoy life, even through the rough patches. This quarter, I found two big phrases that really helped me get through to the end: “Do it scared” and “It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done.” These phrases allowed me to validate my fears but also move past them and not let them define me. 

Fear, in this sense, does not have to be a negative thing. It shows us what we care deeply about. Doing well in school. Making good connections. Getting a job we want. And it’s okay to care deeply and okay to be scared of the outcome, but we must do it anyway! Fear can lead us to the things we love most or places we need to be healed, and that’s a powerful thing. We shouldn’t walk away from the opportunities that scare us but run toward them while reminding ourselves that the comfort will come after we’ve settled into the new, not before. After all, the easy things we don’t care about will never challenge us to truly grow.

Shanelle Huynh

UC Riverside '22

I am a fourth-year creative writing major, business minor at UCR learning to define my own way of living as a "writer" and sharing what I find out on my journey along the way.
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