Rx to Overcoming a Fear of Failure

Atychiphobia is the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure [that] leads to a constricted lifestyle, and is particularly devastating for its effects on a person’s willingness to attempt certain activities…Persons afflicted with atychiphobia considers the possibility of failure so intense that they choose not to take the risk.
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Source)

It’s that feeling you get before you write down the first word of that business proposal you’ve had in mind for years.

It seizes you before you take the first step to restart your educational program.

And you know, it is also that looming sense of dread that approaches as you consider that new Cold Stone® ice cream flavor you’ve wanted to try but may not live up to your Mud Pie Mojo usual.

It is the fear that time may be wasted, efforts thwarted, or that another five dollars may be thrown away as you seek to change your current circumstances for the better. Who would have thought that such ordinary experiences could hint at an underlying medical condition — Atychiphobia — the fear of failure? Directly translated from the Greek — the fear of the unfortunate (circumstance).

Personally speaking, my perfectionist tendencies coupled with some high-profile failures that I have experienced in the not-so-distant past puts me at a unique risk for such a phobia. The desire to be perfect and the sting of past failures are quite dangerous on their own individual merits. Together, they are particularly deadly to the spirit. Each element feeds off the other for the purposes of stifling the creative spirit and forever relegating one to the congested halls of mediocrity.

One can overcome the fear of failure — no embarrassing trips to the drugstore in your rollers needed. A heaping dose of self-medication is okay here. The following is a prescription I’ve taken to pick myself up, brush that dirt off my shoulder, and forge ahead.

Life is one long rough draft…

So, get over it. While in undergrad, I found that the more versions of the rough draft I had before I submitted the final paper, the better the outcome. Of course, this hardly happened because I was seriously engaged in perfecting the craft of “how-to-write-your-term-paper-before-10am-the-next-day.” Beyond such fiascos, I quickly learned that your first attempt is not and should not be your best ever. Yes, try your best, but don’t let your perfectionist tendencies paralyze you. Even if your first attempt hollers, “Reject!” realize that it’s only going to get better. We are all a work in progress — embrace it.

Don’t waste your past failures

As embarrassing as past failures can be, they are always useful. Take stock of what went wrong, seek advice and commit to learning from the past. Our natural tendency is to conceal our blemishes and white out our mistakes. The danger with such an approach is that we waste the opportunities to benefit from our failures. Additionally, we also deny others the chance to learn from our mistakes. I remain forever indebted to the countless number of women who have dared to bare their past hurts and regrets before me. Failing is an unfortunate fact of life — how you move on from it is what counts.

Do it scared

I’m a huge fan of evangelist and motivational speaker, Joyce Meyers. I have found many of her daily devotionals to be quite encouraging. In one such passage, she writes,

Many times we think we should wait to do something until we are no longer afraid, but if we did that, we’d probably accomplish very little….

The prospect of writing that business proposal or stepping into that classroom is not going to get any less daunting any time soon. In fact, the more time passes, guaranteed, the more difficult that task is going to get. Come to terms with the fact that many of the exciting things the amazing version of you will undertake are going to seem pretty scary. Accept the reality of fear, but do it anyway.

Shake it off

I know — easier said, sung, or danced than done. Don’t take it as a personally if things don’t go your way. Yes, it’s embarrassing to fail publicly, but some of the strongest black women I have admired are those who are able to arise from the ashes of an awful situation, keep their head up, and press forward. Remember, quitting is never a good look. The beauty of persistence — timeless.

Keep a close knit circle of high-achieving, positive people

Seeking out such a group, let me add, is not necessarily snobbish. You’re looking out for your well-being and potentially adding to that of others. If you find yourself in a barrel of crabs — most likely, you’re hater too, relishing the next chance to pull down your fellow crustacean. Associate with those who reach for the unimaginable and those who scorn the notion of quitting. Such people may or may not be in your field of interest. I have found that those not familiar with my field are more likely to bring me back to the reality that there is a life beyond a sucky day on labor and delivery.

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 None of what I suggested will make you a Beyoncé or whomever else you consider the bastion of all that is flawless and feminine (sorry). Rather, I do believe that putting some of the above into practice — if you haven’t already — may bring you closer to that goal of becoming an even more amazing version of (insert-your-name-here). Fear be damned.