On Fear: What are you so afraid of?

Oh fear. When we speak of fear, what is it that we talk about? Snakes, death,spiders, no wifi, carbohydrates?

In my journey into adulthood, I have come to realise the stranglehold fear has on me, and on other people. Not just fear of the physical, or of death; but of the abstract. Perhaps the most pervasive fear is that of failure. Even just as common is the fear of success. It may seem strange that one would be afraid of success, but I assure you it is quite common.

I hate to fail, even more than I like to win. The sadness failure brings is bigger than the joy success brings. Sometimes, I am so afraid of failing that I prefer not to try at all.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

I like to win, but I am afraid of what success brings; the pressure to succeed all the time. In a marketing course as an undergrad, I got the highest grade in the class midterm. Not only did I score a high grade, the rest of the class did bad. Of course I was pleased, especially as the professor was full of praises, but my joy was overpowered by my nerves. Instead of basking in the glow of this success, I started to feel the pressure to do well on the next midterm. What if I didn’t do as well?  Sometimes, I pass up on opportunities, not because I am afraid to fail, but because I am afraid of what success will bring. You succeed once, and everyone expects you to replicate the success every time. You get one question right, and every one starts to look to you for the answers. For some, success brings with it a world of change that they may not feel they are ready for. For others failure is a more comfortable space.

Both fears come from the same source: self doubt. We are afraid to fail, and afraid to succeed because we doubt ourselves.We don’t think we have what it takes, and we don’t think we will be able to handle success. I read somewhere that we tend to overestimate the capabilities of others and underestimate ours.  We simply do not think that we are good enough; surely someone else will have something better.

One of the best things someone ever said to me was if 50% of the class fails, then 50% of the class passes. A friend said this to me when I was panicking about a difficult Statistics course back at university. These simple words changed my entire perspective for that course. Why did I immediately assume I would be part of the half that failed? Why did I completely ignore the fact that there was in fact a 50% chance of passing? I studied hard, and did in fact end up passing the course with the highest grade in the class.

Sometimes this self doubt comes from unpreparedness. The fear of failing the exam is not because you are daft, but because you haven’t studied. I realised this this year, when I had to take a professional exam. The exam is a notoriously difficult one, and more than half of test takers fail it. I of course got caught up in the fear, until I started to study. I studied hard and my confidence grew. The exam was a piece of cake.

Sometimes the simple solution is to prepare and to practice. It is not enough to simply believe you can do it, you need to put in the required work. When we are prepared, we fear a little less, because we know our shit, so to say. We are confident because we have practised, maybe even failed, and learned from our mistakes. Sometimes we have to fail before we succeed. Sometimes things have to change and we should accept this, rather than run away from it. I am slowly learning to not be afraid of failure, but instead to draw out lessons from it.

Even with these lessons, fear is still quite omnipresent in my life and I try to make a conscious effort to overcome it. Sometimes it works, sometimes I let the fear win. I tell myself over and over again, that there is nothing to fear. I try to face my fears. What is the worst that could happen? What are you so afraid of? It is so empowering to do something that you feared you couldn’t. Even if you fail, you still feel good for trying.

Fear can only be defeated with action. Inaction will allow the fear to grow  until it takes over everything. If you are afraid of something, do it.


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