I am a failure.
It would be normal to feel ashamed or upset by that statement, but point of fact I often hold it up like some kind of bizarre badge of honor. It’s a running joke between my sister and I how much of a failure we can be. I don’t actually take pride in my supposed failure and I do feel bad about it especially when it runs up against my idea of how a “proper” adult should behave, but I certainly don’t put a lot of effort into fighting it because, contrary to what most of us expect, failure is strangely comfortable and we all wallow in that some days. But isn’t that weird, aren’t we supposed to fear failure?
Pretty much everyone has heard of the fear of failure; that persistent voice that mutters about how even if you do try you’ll look stupid and you won’t succeed anyway so why even bother. And I’m equally sure that just about anyone can relate to this fear. Part of it stems from the pressure of societal structures that only rewards success and punishes mistakes. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter what we learned along the way, it just didn’t work and so we’ve failed. We internalize that failure is bad and often we get to the point where trying something new or different might mean failure so we don’t even try, even though sometimes not trying is just as much of a failure as not succeeding.
So why is failure so comfortable? Because it seems better than the alternative.
Success is something everyone can agree is a good thing, but it’s really easy to fear too. When we succeed suddenly there’s all this pressure that didn’t exist before to keep succeeding. People might not like that we’ve succeeded because it makes them feel bad about themselves and suddenly we’re selfish or arrogant because we’ve decided to do something different and society at large might seem like a very unfriendly place to those who march to the beat of their own drum. What about actually having to own up to being talented and skilled and actually believing that? It’s strangely hard to do.
Why bother learning how to deal with success when we already know how to deal with failure. No, it’s not always completely comfortable, but we know how to navigate the least comfortable parts of disappointment and guilt to get to the comfort of fewer expectations and familiar apathy. So even though you might have moved past the inertia of failure, you end up unconsciously sabotaging yourself at the end.
Fear of failure and success are twin stars of psychological dickery: one keeps you stuck at the start line, the other trips you right before you get to the finish. I know I’ve definitely suffered both, often simultaneously. I’ve even though my work was great, but been scared to post it in a public forum where people can judge me and my work.
At the end of the day I think succeeding at the goals you really do want to accomplish (and not just the goals society tries to dictate for you) can be very scary, but definitely worth it. I’ve often wondered if I’ve been self-sabotaging this year using excuses about money or other environmental issues that certainly effect some of my goals, but have absolutely no bearing on the rest. I’m going to fight against that because if (and when because some failure is inevitable) I do fail, I want to fail with integrity, knowing that I put my all into the effort. We all should, because if we fail we can pick ourselves back up and try again and when we succeed we’ll just aim higher.