Fear of Failure
There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. — Aristotle
I am not afraid to fail.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Failure still has a way of making me second-guess my actions today, but I’ve learned to become more accepting of failure.
Growing up, I was the kid who always earned straight As in every class. Failure was not my friend. With every A received, it became ingrained in me that I would not allow myself to fail — and at that time, receiving anything less than an A grade was a failure to me.
Eventually along my academic path, I finally did receive some B grades (and even a C at one point… I think — I don’t quite remember because I may have suppressed that memory), but my disdain for not being “perfect” never went away and it slowly affected other aspects of my life.
Nowhere was this more evident than in my pursuit of music. I dabbled in creating music during my senior year of high school, and then proceeded to become more serious throughout college. After graduating and at the ripe age of 22, I possessed an inflated sense of what I could accomplish, and though sometimes that can be just the drive and confidence one needs to become successful, my fear of failure had prompted me to form an invisible shield behind which I hid to never have to face reality.
You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try. — Beverly Sills
I wrote and recorded several songs throughout my twenties, but none ever reached the standards that I had set for myself, and thus I was heavily opposed to ever releasing my music for all to hear — not that anyone was clamoring for it either.
By becoming a victim to my fear of failure, I had precluded any type of momentum from transpiring — whether it was in improving my songwriting abilities, strengthening my performance chops, or building a following of people who enjoyed my music. I had stunted my growth in all areas because I was afraid to fail.
My dissatisfaction led to greater frustration, and I eventually acquired creative paralysis for several years. During this period, I picked up photography to allay my creative hunger, and began building up a sizable portfolio. It felt very fulfilling to create something worth being proud of again, but my passion for music beckoned.
And so, just like that, I decided to place photography on the back-burner in order to focus more time on my music. Unfortunately, the same bouts of frustration recurred, and I found myself with no music and no photos to show for my time.
This was it — I had finally reached a point where my fear of failure was the cause of my failure.
If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced. — Vincent Van Gogh
Failure is an important tool, and even a necessity, for growth. The only way to improve is to continue to do. Even now as I work my way into returning to form in both music and photography, I have anxiety about whether I can really achieve what I’ve set out to do. It’s a lot easier and comforting to just do nothing at all; but ultimately, I know it will never be as fulfilling or rewarding.
Failure may still not be my friend, but I know it is certainly not my enemy.