My Fear of Failure

I was a scrawny 11-year-old. We were two points down in the fourth quarter. There were seven seconds left on the clock. We needed three points to win the class year basketball championship. At that point in my life, I had little interest in basketball. Actually, this applied for almost all my teammates and our schoolmate opponents. This wasn’t New York, USA. This was Buckinghamshire, UK. Soccer ruled in these parts.

Basketball didn’t interest us all that much — what did interest us was winning. What interested us were bragging rights. What interested us was grinning at our opponents and proclaiming, “I own you.”

And so we played hard — hustled our way to the finals and were seven seconds away from being runner-ups. Despite our extremely poor basketball skills and our low basketball IQ, this band of 11–12 year old misfits developed an identity. Tom, the extremely tall, cordial kid was our go to guy. He towered over everyone — we simply threw the ball to him on almost every play and he scored. Matt, the limited but passionate boy, was the soul of the team. I blossomed into the passive three-point threat.

And it was in those last seven seconds I was called upon to do my job. To shoot the three that would allow us to win the game by a point. I refused. Did I want the glory? Of course I did. But I didn’t want the responsibility. I didn’t want to carry the possibility of failure. After much remonstrating from my teammates, we decided to dish the ball to Tom once again. He scored with a two from close range, sending the game into overtime.

Eventually we were victorious, earning our bragging rights. At the time, I didn’t think much about the fear of failure. I was too young, too ignorant.

Many years later, I realise my reluctance to take the three-point shot wasn’t simply an anomaly brought by extreme youth — but rather, a shadow that would follow me as I continued to grow. As I continued to chase my dreams.

We’ve all heard it before — the quotes from the super successful. About how they failed but got back up. Failed again. Got back up again. Rinse and repeat until they broke through. And it’s true. Resilience through repetition enhances us in whatever we do. But sometimes, I just can’t help but look at one of those supposedly inspirational quotes from a Michael Jordan or a Martin Scorsese and think, “go fuck yourself.”

My fear of failure stems from being the antelope on the African savanna. You know, the unfortunate piece of meat that gets targeted by the lionesses. There are hundreds of other antelopes on the savanna. But the big cats go for that one. I often wonder how bitter the animal must feel as the lionesses’ jaws crush its neck, suffocating it as the rest of its kind flee to safety, living another day.

“It just had to be me.”

I recall reading the book, “Band of Brothers.” An American soldier proclaimed that on the field of battle, everyone thought they wouldn’t die. They thought thought they were too lucky, too good looking, too special, to take a round from a German. The man to their right or left would die, but they wouldn’t. Such thinking was a survival mechanism. A way for the mind to allow the body to do its job. However, in the fields and towns of Normandy, the laws of averages dictated that someone, no matter how good looking, no matter how special, had to die.

And in life, the law of averages dictates that someone has to fail. And that failure can be over and over again. Until that person has no fight left in him/her. Until that person is sapped of the thing the thing he/she once loved — the thing he/she gave their all for.

In the end, I think my fear of failure is strongly compelled by the fear of losing my passion. Of losing my love for the things I get up in the morning for. Of perceiving life to be nothing but a bleak, black void of nothingness. Of my existence pretty much adding up to nothing.

And that’s when I hesitate. I make excuses. I look to back out of the deal.

Through all that, I realise I’m that antelope on the savanna. The one who, with thousands of his fellow species, has to make the trek through lion and crocodile country in order to find food and water. Many antelopes will fall along the way. But the alternative isn’t much better. If the antelope doesn’t move, he condemns himself to certain death. If he doesn’t try, he’s finished.

And that’s what I need to do.