Struggling to put yourself out there in case you trip up along the way? One writer explores how our fear of failure is holding us all back...
Fear of failure seems to be the epidemic of our generation. If it’s not another survey showing how many women don’t ask for promotions, it’s a friend throwing away the chance to start her own business. And I’m certainly far from immune.
Whenever this has happened to me, for as long as I can remember, my mother would always say, “Don’t be the actress too scared to audition, just in case she doesn’t get the part.”
Over the past few years, I’ve really started to see what she was getting at. The truth is that, whatever your profession, being a woman right now can feel like a constant audition.
Every day we face try-outs, whether it’s to be a friend, a colleague or a partner. And God help those of us who have ever tried to rent a room in a flatshare. An interview judging you purely on your personality – it’s enough to make anyone shudder.
We seem to be in a love-hate relationship with the twenty-first century. In books, films, our addictive Instagram feeds, we are told we can do so much – be so much. And it many ways that’s great – we have more options open to us than women in other place at any other time. But also sneaking in there, hiding in the crevices of shiny hair and elusive dream jobs, are brand new ways for us to fail.
Sometimes I feel this fear so strongly, it leaves me paralysed, unable to even climb out of bed for fear of getting up on the wrong side of it. It becomes my own personal virus, the certainty that I would say, do, or even simply wear the wrong thing.
In the safety of my bed, in the darkness beneath the duvet, I know I can stay safe – I can be the actress walking rapidly away from the open call. But I also know that if I want any kind of role in life, I eventually have to come out from under the covers.
There are still many days when I would like to immerse myself in my bed linen. But along the way I’ve picked up a few ways to help myself out of it.
For instance, I like to take the time to decide exactly which part I’m going for. What is it I want so much that the mere thought of coming up short has me running in the opposite direction? Because once I have identified it, I can begin to break it down.
I think we often fear failure because we’re imagining getting up tomorrow and attempting to achieve it all in the first half an hour. But that’s as ridiculous as an unknown actress going up against Jennifer Lawrence. For the new Hunger Games movie. Without ever having stood in front of a camera before.
As a self-confessed planning nut, I’ve found that the process of pulling something apart into small and, most importantly, achievable pieces, can be a godsend. You can focus on one thing at a time and more often than not, achieve it. All of a sudden the whole thing seems a lot more doable – and failure a lot less likely.
I’ve also come to learn the importance of giving things a second look. So often, especially when something goes wrong, we assume it is our fault – our failure. If we don’t get the job, we think we’re not talented, if we don’t get invited to the party, we think we’re unpopular. These thoughts rush through our heads and we automatically accept them, making it harder to pick ourselves up and try again.
I like to think of these scenarios as a bet. How much would I bet that the interviewer didn’t pick me because I have no skills? Suddenly it seems much less certain. The truth is that, after a second glance – and some slightly more rational thinking – I’d bet that the role just wasn’t the best fit for me. It’s annoying, but it’s not as big a boulder standing between me and my next interview.
I don’t think there will ever come a time when we never feel scared that we might fail – in many ways it’s intrinsic to being human. But ultimately, if we don’t audition, we will never get any part.
And there are so many wonderful parts out there.
Find our more about our #Breakfree from Fear campaign