How do I stop being scared of failure?

A student wrote to me with this question:

How do I stop being scared of failure? A lot of the times I don’t go for activities/ competitions or even play games with my friends because I’m scared of losing. In my mind, if I don’t win, I’m not good enough. How do I get out of this mindset?

I don’t think it’s helpful to link success and failure with one’s self worth, or to infer if one is good enough based on one’s success or failure. That’s a misunderstanding of the relation between success/failure and the measure of how much one is good enough.

To quote a book I read years ago, “Failure is but a postponed success.”

Why? Because failure is more educational and informative than success, and failure is the means by which we improve and get better at things. In other words, you can’t be good enough until you have learnt how to avoid being bad at something, and you learn about the things to avoid from your failures.

I know many people think that I am very successful. But behind the scenes, these success are borne out of my many spectacular failures. The teaching of my module is a perfect example. I’m able to teach it so much better this semester because of the numerous failings and mistakes I made in the previous semester. Of course, failure is unpleasant. I don’t like it as much as you do, and I sometimes lose sleep over it. But it gives me so much insight to better understand why something didn’t work, and I know what not to do the next semester. It also allows me to can explain and tell others why they shouldn’t do something and what would happen if they were to try that.

Only those who have failed enough times will have this kind of experience and knowledge to offer. The one who succeeds can only say so much about why one should do a particular method, but that person is limited and cannot say what will happen if one were to try otherwise.

So if you were to compare me (and my numerous failures) with someone who succeeded all the way, I have more insights and experiences to share and more value to add than the one who did not encounter failure. Who would you say is better? The one who failed many times, right? There’s more to learn. So this makes me more masterful and better at what I do.

If it helps you feel less scared of failure, one thing I always tell myself is that everything I do is an experimental research, so I am prepared to lose because I want to learn from the experience and understand why it didn’t work. It also reduces the anxieties I have about getting it right the first time. You can’t fail if you wanted to fail to learn, because your failure is your success! Haha!

It’s important to expose yourself to more failures so that you feel less apprehensive about it. And truth be told, games are the best for this. Because you can lose in a fun environment where everyone can laugh and have a good time about it. You can always imagine or role play as someone else, if it helps. If you lose, it’s not you who failed but your role-play character who messed up! And that’s ok!

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.