Atychiphobia – A Fear of Failure
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it’s been forever since I’ve blogged and it seems unfortunate that my blogging debut is seeped in failure. I don’t mean that the post itself fails, at least I hope that’s not what I mean, but more that failure, or rather the perception and fear of it, are incredibly topical.
I feel as if the last year and a half has been cloaked in this absurdly powerful fear of failing. In the lead up to submitting my PhD I worried continuously that the world was soon to discover the one fact I’ve always known – that is, not only am I not as smart as everyone around me assumes I might be, but that I’m not actually smart at all. I’m sure there’s a therapeutic exercise in why that thought process is dangerous, for anyone who’s interested.
In that purgatory timeframe between submission and the receipt of results I put off every new project or old passion for fear of failure. I decided not to launch my own company, I decided not to write a novel, I decided not to publish any of my work in academic journals and I even declined to maintain this very blog for fear that nothing I could produce would be worthy. My readers might be bored, I might have some glaring logical error in my research, I mightn’t be as creative as I think I am. And likely, at least some of those things are true. But they’re unlikely to be true all at once.
Once I received my results, I felt validated for about forty-eight hours and then returned to my former thinking, reminding myself it was a total fluke. I think I know where the feeling comes from. For the first time in nearly my entire existence I no longer find myself within the confines and safety of an educational institution. I went from school to an undergraduate degree and then straight on to a PhD because it felt right for me. And I know that it is an enormous privilege to have woken up nearly every morning for the last 23 years and been at least mildly enthusiastic at the prospect of going to school. The last 6 years (minus the last 6 months where I nearly killed myself to finish the damn thesis) in particular have been so enjoyable, I can’t imagine ever feeling such contentment in an actual job.
One of the many glorious things about school is there are only a limited number of ways to fail and often, though not always, it comes down to just doing the hard work. For the last haul of the PhD the real world seemed to entice me. It promised sunshine and rainbows and endless opportunity, but mostly it seemed to represent freedom from the oppressive shackles of the psychotic thesis that sucked every last bit of energy/enthusiasm from my soul. But now that the thesis and I have had some distance, I can see that freedom, more than anything, presents me with the opportunity to fail in 1000 different ways that I never even imagined possible – and that my friends, scares the bejeezus out of me.
But daily I feel the pressure to do something, to keep moving, to set into motion all the things I thought I’d do when the PhD was done. And the only thing that frightens me more than failing at all those things, is stagnating. So I have spent the last few months at war with myself over which of these things scares me more, failure or stagnation. It’s a tough call.
I have recently (as in today) decided that I am going to rewire my brain to believe better things. I can continue reminding myself that I am less than mediocre. I can continue to reprimand myself for my imperfections or I can simply try and fail a hundred times over but propel myself forward instead of standing still and feeling worse about it every day. Most importantly, I can remind myself continuously that the goal isn’t perfection; the goal is progression… sometimes in tiny steps, rarely in great leaps.
This post is my debut, not because it’s brilliant, not because it’s inspiring or something to be marveled at, but because it’s existence is a tiny revolution, a teeny push against the urge to continue thinking that I cannot do this. So to the world this is but a blog post, to me it’s simple resurrection and a small exercise in hyperbole.