Fear of failure and Perfectionism

fear-of-failureIf you’re struggling to get things done, chances are YOU are standing in your own way. And before delving deeper into the causes of your procrastination, here’s a thought I’d like you to file in the back of your mind:

“I don’t necessarily believe in talent but I do believe in hard work. It is amazing how talented you become when you work hard.”Clare Smyth

Comparing life to a race, two of the most common hurdles we place in our own way is trying to be perfect and being scared of screwing up. The only qualification I have to write about this is simply the fact that I’ve been in both holes and, after what felt like ages, managed to get myself out of.

Although I’ve always had the ‘it must be done perfectly or not at all’ tendency driving almost everything I ever attempted, the first hole I fell into was the fear of failure hole. Let’s call that the F-hole. To interrupt myself again – kids don’t suffer from perfectionism, it’s an adult disease.

Before I plunged into the F-hole, I experienced a series of stumbles which tripped me up so badly that I simply could not avoid tumbling into the bloody hole. The first stumble came straight after being admitted as a ‘legal practitioner’. Now, after exiting the courtroom in my, albeit silly looking, black gown I expected to start practicing as a lawyer. That dream came crashing down when I was called into the partner’s office and was told that the firm would not be offering me a permanent position. Yes, a proper Oh F@#$-moment. That was like getting a big red F back in school – symbolizing your poor grasp of algebra. The F for Failure also struck Fear into my heart. Fear for experiencing another Oh F@#$-moment.

Resurrecting my career by further studies in taxation and actually becoming a tax consultant went a long way towards erasing those memories. So much so that it gave me enough courage to jump off the proverbial bridge. After roughly eight years of climbing the corporate ladder I woke up one morning and quit my job to become a tour guide. Quite a leap that took most of my immediate family and close friends by surprise. So off I went, guiding people to remote destinations without a fear in the world.

But just like kayaking the Zambezi, the calm waters was soon followed by a series of rapids. The first being the strain, me constantly being on the road, placed on my family and the second and decisive rapid being the profitability of my new venture. It flipped the boat and for the second time in my ‘career’ I was handed the big red F.

The third stumble, which ultimately plunged me into the hole was a second failed business venture, this time in the fitness industry. The business grew at a steady rate and all seemed good until a large portion of the newly acquired clientele stopped paying their monthly fees – but still showed up for class. I closed up shop and so accepted another big red F, this time stuck prominently on my forehead, or so it felt. (Looking back now I must admit that my decisions back then was based on how I felt instead of the truth.)

And like most people stuck in holes I promptly searched around for a spade, found a couple and commenced digging myself deeper into the hole. Getting plastered over weekends was a spade I frequently used. Isolating myself, hiding if you like, was another favorite. These spades were also slowly but surely hacking away at every meaningful relationship in my life.

It was the deterioration of these relationships that provided the wake-up call. And although it lifted my chin and made me realize just how deep I’ve sunk it did not magically lifted me out of my predicament. The reason for my prolonged stay in the hole was the fact that I also suffered from a severe dose of perfectionism.

‘The next time I’m doing something it must be perfect’ I told myself. Blaming past failures on the fact that it was not done ‘perfectly’ but also using it as an excuse to linger in the hole, and even to dig it a little bit deeper.

Here’s how that worked. Realizing that I must get my shit together I started making to-do lists. Something like:

  • Update your CV;
  • Plan the week’s meals;
  • Do the shopping;

So I started with the CV. Googled what a proper CV should look like. Googled what a professional CV should look like. Started writing. Reviewed it. Changed the intro. Changed the font. Changed the template. Started all over again. No paper in the printer. Can’t print it in color. Fuck it. Not my day. The world has conspired against me…

And before I knew it the day has flown by and I haven’t ticked off a single item on my to-do list. Attempting to write the perfect CV took up so much time that I ended up buying takeaways thereby pissing off the rest of my household. Nice one, the hole just got a bit deeper.

It was not until I dumped the idea of trying to be perfect, and acknowledging that I’m not that I started to get things done. By banishing perfectionism it also removed lame excuses from my grasp resulting in me getting through my to-do list. You’ve heard this a hundred times: ‘Nobody is perfect’. Think about that and then bravely continue on your path knowing that it is only through making mistakes that we grow and learn.

With regards to fear, consider this: Failure is not having the courage to try. The only thing standing between people and their dreams is the fear of failure. Yet without failure we’ll never learn nor will we ever grow. Failure is therefore an essential ingredient for success. It offers us lessons and if we’re wise, it will guide us past the holes we fell in in the past. Don’t fear failure, embrace it – ‘fortune favors the brave’ my dad used to say…

So go out there and make it happen – no more excuses, no more fear.