Updated: Mar 28, 2022
Did you know more people fear failure (31%) than spiders (30%) or the paranormal (15%)? And nearly half of adults (49%) admitted fear of failure as being their biggest roadblock to not achieving their goals.
So why do we fear failure so much?
Or, more importantly, does society make it feel impossible to be allowed to fail?
From the pressure to get perfect grades to the monetization of our hobbies to Hustle Culture and the magnifying glass we continuously hold up to those around us– we, as a collective, fear failure.
Social media has made it incredibly easy to cut, crop, and edit our lives. We can present ourselves in a way that is easily digestible and highlights our “best moments”. But the more we filter out the “bad” parts of our lives, the less accepting we become when we see it in others. And the more we start seeing failure as a “bad” thing as opposed to what it really is: an opportunity to learn.
Failing the right way can be a beautiful thing. We build resilience, knowledge, and life skills. We try again, and again, and again. And sometimes, we fail enough to admit defeat– which isn’t always the end of the world either. Sometimes you just aren’t good at that one thing, no matter how hard you try. Sometimes other people are just better at things than you. Not every child needs a trophy...
And while healthy competition can help us strive to be our best selves, the darker side of that leaves us hoping the other person will fail, too. Schadenfreude is the word used to describe the joy some people feel when they see others fail. It isn’t always a bad thing: recognizing that we may envy someone who has “more” than us can help us if we use it in a positive way.
It’s a signal that we want something that another has. Use envy to show you what you want for yourself but don’t yet have. Rather than wish that someone else who has these achievements loses them, see if you can emulate them to gain what they have that you desire.
Envy can serve as a motivator to work harder to get what we desire. A 2004 study at a Hong Kong bank found that tellers who did not receive a promotion - and were envious of those that did - kicked it up a notch and performed better in the ensuing months. [X]
It’s how we view failure that can hinder us as a society. Perfectionism aims for a utopia (the exact definition of the word meaning: “no place”, as in it doesn't exist) when it should be aiming for something else, something more inclusive (this does not mean everyone can perform at the same level) and diverse.
“Inclusive social institutions – economic, political, and cultural – can strengthen resilience at every level. As economist Daron Acemoglu and political scientist James Robinson have argued, societies thrive when they develop inclusive institutions that distribute power and opportunity broadly. They fail when those institutions become “extractive,” serving to concentrate power and opportunity in the hands of a few.” [X]
If we recognized that failure is essential to growth (and especially essential to resilience), perhaps we wouldn’t be so quick to form the mob or feel joy as someone falls from grace. Not just resilience in our own selves (which is important for emotional regulation, our family units, etc) but our social resilience.
Social resilience is the ability of human communities to withstand and recover from stresses, such as environmental change or social, economic or political upheaval. Resilience in societies and their life-supporting ecosystems is crucial in maintaining options for future human development. [ X ]
When we have resilience in ourselves and our community, our ability to withstand traumatic events grows. The more open we become, the more we stop seeing things so black and white, and the more accepting and supportive we can become of people who may not do things exactly the way we do. The more individual input, the more knowledge, the better a community can adapt to change.
Standing together as a group has kept us alive since prehistoric ages, our sense of community keeps people afloat in stressful times. We lose sight of that at times, and it could be incredibly beneficial to get back to the idea that “it takes a village”.
Fear of failure put us in a vulnerable position to face adversity. We feel alone, unable to take the next step and get closer to one another. When you need support to tackle the next obstacle, Z Form can help.