Whether it’s roller coasters (big one for me), spiders, heights, earthquakes, ghosts, public speaking, or flying on planes, there are so many things that a person can be afraid of. However different these fears may be or feel, there is one fear that seems to be universal…and that’s the fear of failure.
The phobia of failure is called atychiphobia, and its meaning refers to anxiety about not measuring up to either your own goals, or the standards that other people (or society at large) have set for you. According to the Los Angeles Times, the fear of failure is the number one reason that people refuse to try new things, get stuck in a rut, or work towards accomplishing new goals. The fear of failure is synonymous with fear of the unknown. All of this is understandable, seeing as trying anything unfamiliar and/or new comes with a certain amount of risk.
But after the year we’ve all just endured, trying new things and allowing big and little life shifts to happen is honestly necessary. We all need something new right now after so much time spent locked away. Statistics are proving this to be true, too — according to The Washington Post, the pandemic caused nearly a third of U.S. workers under the age of 40 to consider changing careers. As for us college students, COVID caused many of us to question our dream jobs and future plans. So if you’re wondering, How do I stop being afraid of failure?, remember that trying new things opens so many new doors!
Read on to learn more about what causes the fear of failure, how to overcome fear of failure, and why it’s completely okay to fail along the way.
Know What Causes the Fear Of Failure
No matter what new things you plan on trying — whether it’s changing your major or transferring schools or even something as simple as auditioning for a play — it’s important to know that “everything new is hard at first,” as said by the This Quote Changed My Life podcast. The “at first” stage doesn’t last forever, and it’s okay to be imperfect as you learn and grow.
Licensed psychotherapist Rachel Tombaugh elaborates on this same idea, and explains what causes the fear of failure: our society’s inclination towards perfectionism. “There is a subtle and unspoken message in our culture which says that we shouldn’t make mistakes or be imperfect at anything we do and that a perfect outcome is more important than joyfulness,” she tells Her Campus. “It is statistically impossible for a person to be perfectly skilled at everything they try, just as it is impossible for every person to be equally talented and perfect at every activity.”
The idea that perfection needs to be the end result of trying new things can cause people to give up on themselves before they’ve even started trying. And who knows? They could’ve really come to love these new things and/or situations if they’d given themselves a chance.
Forget what you already know
Preconceived notions can often scare us away from new things because we think we’re already doomed to fail before we’ve even begun. Instead, look at each new opportunity as just that — an opportunity to learn and grow, however imperfectly.
Julia, 20, a junior at Wayne State University, put this into practice. Julia danced on her studio’s senior company for several years in high school. After she graduated and started college, she was called back to help assist classes at the studio and, eventually, to teach classes of her own. Now, Julia is working there part-time and even gets to choreograph competition dances. However, she explains that the transition from student to teacher involved a learning curve.
“I was apprehensive about my new role as faculty rather than student because I didn’t know if I would be treated the same by other teachers or if the students would respect me as their teacher,” she says. “But I just had to remind myself that I had the opportunity to do something that I’ve wanted to do my whole life, and that I needed to erase those preconceived assumptions and doubts from my mind before I even began.”
Instead of focusing on the things you think you know, try your very best to go into new experiences with an open mind. Julia did, and that’s why she’s so happy with what she’s doing now.
Focus on the positives
Opening up our minds to new things and situations can often feel daunting because of how unfamiliar they are. For example, Haley, 22, a senior at the University of Michigan, just began a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend and is experiencing the ups and downs that come along with this kind of “new thing.”
“When my partner moved to Boston for his job, we both were dreading being long-distance, especially because we’ve never gone more than a week without seeing each other,” she tells Her Campus. “We know that even though it’s hard, long-distance isn’t something that will have to last forever. We keep planning when we’re going to see each other next. Having time together to look forward to as well as an end date in mind definitely helps long-distance to feel a little less daunting!”
Whether you’re about to begin something like a new relationship (long-distance or not) or are simply looking to try a new indoor cycling class, unfamiliarity can cause feelings of nervousness to creep in at any time. Instead of anticipating the worst that could happen, keep your eye on the prize and focus on the good things that can and will occur as a result of testing out something new.
Persevere and push through
As I said earlier, the pandemic is changing how a lot of us think about our career paths and dream jobs. So, what happens when we actually get out there and are trying to apply to a bunch of new jobs? Gabby, 22, a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University, shares how perseverance was an essential aspect of her job hunt.
“I would definitely say when I was job searching that it was a numbers game,” she says. “I applied to at least 30 jobs before I heard back from one to set up an interview. In total, I applied to about 50 before receiving an offer! The process is tough, and at times it can feel like there’s no end in sight. But remaining faithful that you are capable and that the right job will find you at the right time is so important!”
Ultimately, Gabby’s position is exactly what she was looking for. She also said that in the four months she’s been working at her new company, she’s learned more than she could have ever imagined.
No matter what new things you decide to tackle in the near future, try and take the pressure off yourself to perform super well right away. Tombaugh advises, “A better way to approach trying new things is to ask, ‘Is this fun for me? Do I like it? Would I like to try it again?’ A positive and curious approach can give us the courage we need to try new things and to allow us to put joy at the center of our efforts rather than an unrealistic expectation of instantaneous perfection, which usually relates more to what other people may be thinking as they’re watching us, rather than our own subjective experience of enjoyment.”
The moral of the story here is to grant yourself permission to fail at something new. And remember, you don’t need to be the best to feel your best.
Rachel Tombaugh, Psychotherapist