A FEAR OF FAILURE
My Journey Of Coping With Fear Of Failure
My fear of failure is a blessing and a curse. It’s most definitely been the driver of much of my achievements, but its also been the cause of so much (internally driven) pressure, stress and undoubtedly personal mental and physical health issues I’ve faced.
I have no idea what exactly I am afraid of. But innately I want to do well, to continually grow and better myself and my achievements and to out do my own expectations. My fear of failure has not really stopped me from going for things in a work capacity or achieving things in my career from a progression point of view (if anything it’s probably been the thing that’s helped me do good work), but it’s certainly deterred me from other things in life or impacted my health along the way.
For example when I was younger I did amateur slalom racing, but the fear of not doing well or people thinking i wasn’t good enough took all the enjoyment away and stopped me doing it more seriously. I loved playing netball socially and competitively growing up, but I can recall multiple occasions during university matches (when I was captain) and county games where my lack of self belief in my ability caused such sever anxiety pre match. I’d almost not want to play through fear of being rubbish – despite being a member of the team, and in some instances captain. My lowest point was during my teens, the struggles of growing up and the pressure I felt from needing (again, internal driver) to deliver my GCSE grades and A Level grades (and a significant belief I really couldn’t do it) had a very negative impact on my health. Now a days I’m much more self assured, and have taught myself I can do the things that so often I really didn’t believe I could (from getting those GCSE’s, to passing those A Levels with flying colours, to getting into UNI & graduating, getting that job, getting that promotion, and getting it again and again, and again).
I’ve learnt in sink or swim situations I swim, I pour all my energy, effort and smarts into swimming because sinking is not an option for me. I’ve no doubt this attitude is what has helped me achieve what I have so far in my career, but it’s also no doubt the reason I suffer so immensely with ‘stress’ as an adult. It’s not the type of stress you’d think, i’m not panicked, crying, overwhelmed or visually stressed, in fact if you asked me if I was stressed my answer would be no, i’m actually chilled and in control. But the reality is my body, inside must be stressed, it clearly feels the pressure & demands I put on it. I suffer severely from migraines which naturally worsen the busier I get, and I got diagnosed over a year ago with bowel disease (Ulverative Colitis, the other form being Chrons) which is highly impacted and triggered by stress.
In large i’m aware of the inner stresses my body can feel, even If emotionally and mentally I do not feel stressed. The fear of failure is what clearly drives me to keep swimming, but it’s clearly what also eats me up inside.
But as I said it’s also the thing that can stop me doing things, or do things with a lot of anxiety and stress. In my industry there is an award for rising stars called ’30 under 30′, its a Campaign award and forms part of the media week awards (one of the biggest award ceremonies in our industry). I’ve been asked to enter it many a time, i’ve achieved a lot in this industry by the age of 29, and so I understand why I might make a good candidate. I’ve never entered. I’ve always said no when asked. Why … i’ve come to realise that the fear of not being shortlisted and not winning would be so detrimental to my self esteem, my self confidence and the worse of all my fear of what other people would think of me, that I’ve just not wanted to enter or even put myself forward for consideration. The thought of people thinking I was good, then that being shattered when I don’t succeed at an industry judged award is petrifying. It’s a matter of self preservation.
After continually shying away from all forms of self PR beyond just delivering in my job and wanting to deliver my best (which by the way is not that common, there are plenty of others in my company and industry who’s career journeys are littered and adorned with awards and recognition at every step of the way, their PR wagon is in full swing and working), I was recently asked again to enter another award. My instinct was to say no. The award was another Campaign media award named ‘Women Of Tomorrow’. It’s an award given to future female leaders and acts as a celebration for females in our industry. I loved what it stood for, and that it was less about age & achievement and more about all round worthiness. But in putting myself forward, with the support and request of my CEO and COO, was a huge opportunity to open myself to judgement, for failure. It made me feel vulnerable.
I planned not to let my company enter me. But then, whilst snowed in during my recent trip to Val D’isere in a fleeting moment, on the day of submission, I decided to go ahead. For two reasons largely, firstly no one apart from those asking me to enter new (a protection blanket to me – no mass humiliation if I didn’t get shortlisted), secondly it wasn’t about age (and in my position within my company I didn’t really want to highlight my age through fear of it being an issue relative to my seniority & position internally. Perhaps people would think I wasn’t worthy of my role? – something I do know deep down is madness and only a personally held concern). Plus I loved that it was a celebration of women in our industry … So I got submitted.
Last week I found out I have been shortlisted. EEEEE. This week I’m required to complete an interview Q&A which may get published. Next week I will go forward for face to face interviews with a series of judges before a decision is made on this years winners of Women of Tomorrow.
I feel exceptionally proud to be shortlisted, delighted in fact. But I also feel sick to the bottom of my stomach with anxiety for putting myself out there, for opening myself to judgement and being vulnerable to failing at the next hurdle.
If I were talking to my daughter I would smother her with cuddles and tell her to stop being so silly. That nothing will undermine my career achievements to date, that industry recognition is lovely but not the only determining factor of ones worth, ability or successes. And that to be a winner or not, to be shortlisted is something to be vehemently proud of. In fact, to put myself out there, when I know it’s the thing that fills me with the most dread, anxiety and vulnerability, is a huge personal achievement that I should be proud to have achieved regardless of any outcome. It may sound silly as someone who is actually very confident and outgoing, it may also be a surprise given the vibe I put out there and my general career attitude and focus, but it’s the internal mental grapples that no one sees, the fear of failure that drives me and that I’ve fought with forever that is actually more of my personality than many people know or realise.
Fear of failure is a blessing and a curse. But what I’ve always tried to do, is not let it stop me. Instead to accept it, nurture those thoughts & feelings, address and look after the anxious side of myself, and to carefully let my more driven side crack on.