I fear. We’ve established that previously. I fear failure. And in my critique of myself as a writer I glossed over the issue in a paragraph. Now, there is no escape.
We confront our fears. We expose them for the frauds they are. And we overcome them.
At least, that’s the theory.
Fear of failure is a powerful demotivator. In a desperate bid to avoid failing, fear causes you to question every possible decision. The more you question yourself, the more doubt creeps in, leaving you unable to make a decision. Then, rather than make a wrong decision, you make no decisions. You give up, you stop trying—and in a bid to avoid failing, you fail anyway.
Where does this come from?
I didn’t have the “awful childhood with overbearing parents living vicariously through me” sort of upbringing. Trying my best was encouraged, but I was never punished for failing. I have no early years trauma associated with failing, which might explain why as an adult I would rather avoid doing something than try it and fail.
Failure comes as a crushing blow, a wound to my pride. It’s not something I’ve been used to over the course of my life. I was a clever—some would say arrogant—kid who succeeded at the things I tried. At university things got tougher, and whilst I didn’t succeed as well as I was used to, I never failed. Hell, I even passed my driving test first time!
But there have been failures. And I bear them as best I can. In private. Because most failures (failure to get that job, failure to get that story published) are private failures. That’s not what I fear.
It’s public failure.
Which means it isn’t failure that I fear. Not at all. If I did, private failure would scare me as much as public. There is something then in the exposure which terrifies me. Ridicule? Humiliation? By publicly proclaiming myself to be a writer, becoming active with online writing communities, have I trapped myself? Had I kept quiet, and not risked the fear of public humiliation, would I be writing privately and happily?
I don’t know. But I should make the attempt to find out, to know myself better and understand why I fear what I fear, if only as the first step to overcoming that fear.
If fear of public humiliation born from failure is the fear which holds me back, then aversion therapy is the cure. By thrusting myself into situations where, publicly, I will succeed or fail, I’m confronting that very fear head on. If I succeed, then I’ve gained the thing I want. If I fail, then I have no choice but to meet my fears—and perhaps realise they aren’t that great after all.
I’ve publicly committed myself to finishing the first of the three Long Watch novels this year. I will either have done that, and achieved something important, or I will not, and will be held accountable, with all the humiliation that entails. I’ve publicly committed to an incredibly tough running challenge over the next 12 months. Again, I will either succeed and achieve my goal, or not, and face the shame of failure. Publicly, because I dared to proclaim my goals.
Pride cometh before a fall. Is it shame at the hubris of declaring a grand goal, should that goal then fail miserably?
I return to the fact I simply don’t know. All I know is I feel it, viscerally. Fear consumes me; it paralyses me.
I return over and over to the words of Samuel Beckett: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.