Back in the day when we used motivational videos in assemblies, videos that told kids that they could be anything as long as they got at least a B at GCSE, I remember being a little bit taken in by the preposterous philosophy that we were selling. We were in of charge materials that could bring about endless possibilities.
Work hard and dream big.
One of the problems with this is that some of us are secretly non-believers. Along the way we have tasted some success, and it tastes sweet, but we have also had it tinged with the rancid sourness of failure. Failure is a taste that is hard to wash away.
As an adult I have experienced many highs with some significant successes that ought to have fortified me against the inevitable ‘failure’. I had watched Michael Jordan telling the youth of our school that failure was the natural companion to success; one had to fail in order to succeed.
Somehow, with a basketball in his hands, that made sense. Just put the ball in the hoop, if you miss nobody will mind. The little fly in the ointment there is that they do tend to mind. And they remind you of it whenever time permits.
My season of success in my late blooming was driven by my need to succeed, on my own terms. I took a chance and, for a number of years that chance paid off. When I took a few hits, small jabs at first and then the big haymakers, I buckled at the knees and went down.
I can’t remember anybody counting to ten and I can’t remember many in the crowd willing me to climb back up again and to get back into the fight. My eyes were gone. My head was spinning. My opponent multiplied before me and I conceded defeat. Since then I have never climbed back onto the canvas again.
So what is it the causes us to cower before challenges?
We all have different definitions of failure, simply because we all have different benchmarks, values, and belief systems. A failure to one person might simply be a great learning experience for someone else.
Many of us are afraid of failing, at least some of the time. But fear of failure (also called “atychiphobia”) is when we allow that fear to stop us doing the things that can move us forward to achieve our goals.
Fear of failure can be linked to many causes. For instance, having critical or unsupportive parents is a cause for some people. Because they were routinely undermined or humiliated in childhood, they carry those negative feelings into adulthood.
Experiencing a traumatic event at some point in your life can also be a cause.
It wasn’t until after my father died that I realised that I had never really proved my worth to him. He was a man who found it easier to disparage rather than encourage. He was prolific reader and dismissed the stuff that I studied and taught. He only ever gave cursory glances at the writings that I placed before him and rarely gave out any praise that was not qualified.
No matter what I did, it never seemed to register on his Richter scale. Even my children were not treated in the same reverential fashion as my younger sister’s. So, when he died, it was job not finished and, like a beaten hound, I ran around trying to find approval from a whole host of fuckers who I didn’t rate.
Oh, and how those wonderful individuals enjoyed my downfall.