Fear of failure

Uneasy half dreams in

the dead of night,

fear, like a ghost, whispering

‘you are not good enough’.

Daylight brings clarity,

but fear grabs my arm,

pulls me back

says with authority

‘you are not ready’.

Fear climbs inside me

tenses my muscles

speaks with my voice

‘you must not get it wrong’.

Fear walks before me,

removing the risks,

smoothing the way

to conformity.


Ah, fear. I’m feeling pleased with myself today because I faced a fear, the fear of failure, of getting things wrong, of looking foolish in front of a group of people.

Since I signed up for a coach training course, I have been feeling very nervous about being observed while I coach. As part of the learning process, we attend classes where a student coaches another student and then gets feedback from the class and the teacher. It really is the perfect way to learn a new skill; listening to other people coach, being a client and also coaching and getting feedback.

I have to do three hours of coaching in these observed coaching classes as part of the course, all the while practising and improving the skills that I’m learning about in the other lessons. Then , when I’m ready, I have to do 10 hours of observed coaching in front of an assessor, as part of the assessment for the course.

So today, I dialled in to the beginner level observed coaching class, fully intending to be an observer, but when the teacher asked for someone to coach, it all went quiet. I waited a while, still no-one volunteered. Eventually, heart racing, I said I’d coach. Gulp!

It went OK, although nerve wracking. I didn’t do everything perfectly of course, there is loads for me to learn and practise. The feedback was really useful and I now know which aspects I need to work on next.

And it feels so good to finally have done it!

But it got me thinking about fear, particularly fear of failure.

For some reason I felt that I wasn’t good enough to coach in the class, even though the whole point of the classes is to learn, to make mistakes in a safe environment.

The teachers constantly remind us that we are learning and it’s normal to get things wrong, because we are learning something new.

But there is a perfectionist part of me that feels that I should already be good at it, which is ridiculous, why am I paying for a training course if I should already know how to do it! This part of me stops me from trying new things, stops me from stepping out of my comfort zone.

Fear of failure. Fear of doing something wrong in front of other people. Fear of looking stupid.

Of course, no-one else cared if I got things wrong, or thought I looked stupid, or thought I was a failure. The rest of the class and the teachers were there to support me. They were glad I’d stepped up to coach, because it meant they didn’t have to!

Fear is so good at holding us back, stopping us from doing what we really want to do. And the best way to deal with it? Well, I wish I knew! But one way to deal with it is to become aware of it and to do the thing you are scared of regardless.

This is what I keep telling myself. Allow yourself to fail. Allow yourself to learn. You don’t have to be perfect.


How do you deal with the fear of failure?

5 thoughts on “Fear of failure

  1. I love the poem, Sarah. And I couldn’t agree more about the importance of letting ourselves “fail,” of being willing to feel foolish, look stupid. I absolutely believe this is key to real learning. Learning a language is the easiest example, I think—we do literally have to be willing to “make a fool” of ourselves saying crazy wrong things if we want to move toward fluency! In the United States, I am often saddened by how much our culture doesn’t encourage this, how afraid people are to show they don’t know something (even teachers, and we should know better!). As far as me an fear goes, I let myself feel it, try not to let it stop me. But I also try (now) to honor it, too, and to not push myself the way I used to. . . .

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    1. It is the key to learning, something I’ve only recently realised. I think that’s why I struggle with learning languages! I feel so foolish, inevitable getting it wrong. Probably it’s the key to being a good teacher too – creating a supportive space in which students can fail.

      Like

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