Fear of failing and it’s impact on self-esteem

It was colour night for our local gymkhana club — a time to acknowledge effort and award prizes for achievement. I’d been a member as a kid but had dropped out a couple years earlier when I’d finished high school. My buddy, Doug, who had been in the club with me when we were kids, invited me to attend. It felt like my last chance for nostalgia, because I’d just accepted my first job in radio as a news reporter, and I was about to become very busy with my adult life, and maybe even move away.

“We are all of us failures, at least, the best of us are.”

— James M. Barrie, Scottish author and dramatist, creator of Peter Pan

It was colour night for our local gymkhana club — a time to acknowledge effort and award prizes for achievement. I’d been a member as a kid but had dropped out a couple years earlier when I’d finished high school. My buddy, Doug, who had been in the club with me when we were kids, invited me to attend. It felt like my last chance for nostalgia, because I’d just accepted my first job in radio as a news reporter, and I was about to become very busy with my adult life, and maybe even move away.

Leonard, a local farmer, was once again emcee for the evening. He always did a great job combining downhome humour with stats, facts and inspiring stories about each of the members.

“That about wraps it up for the trophies,” he said. “But there’s one more person I’d like to make mention of — not for what he’s done this year but for what he’s about to do.

“We’ve got a young fella in the community who most of us know pretty well. You all know his folks. He’s a real nice young man and he’s going to be doing something — well — pretty different from what most of us have ever done. He’s going off to be a DJ in the radio business.”

Doug gave me a thumb’s up. I could feel my face turning red.

“We all know he’s going to be a big success,” Leonard continued. Most everyone was now smiling at me now. “Someday we’ll look back and say, we knew him when. Murray, would you stand up?”

At the time, I thought I might actually be a success — another Wolfman Jack or, at the very least, Lloyd Robertson. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t seem to make it big on-air so eventually moved into advertising when family obligations demanded greater stability.

At one point, a lack of apparent success began to weigh heavily upon me. In fact, a depression overcame me and I began to think of myself as a failure. Everyone had such high hopes for my glorious future (as did I) but nothing, to my way of thinking, had come of it.

I think there are times when we all feel like a failure. Life has a way of zapping the happiness right out of you. It’s easy to get down. The boss criticizes you. The partner who once made you swoon now seems dissatisfied and continually harps on you. The bills keep piling up. And worst of all, you begin to realize that most of your dreams will go forever unfulfilled.

I remember thinking to myself, “This is not how it’s supposed to be!”

Disappointment can lead to depression and self-loathing and even those with the best self-esteem can find themselves thinking poorly of themselves. In my self-esteem and hypnotherapy practice, I encounter more and more people who are suffering from anxiety and depression. It seems that many people are medicated — trying to dull the pain of failure and defeat.

When we feel like a failure, we’ve let our inner critic take charge. That little voice haunts us, telling us that we’re not good enough, that we haven’t accomplished enough and that we should compare ourselves unfavorably to others to confirm how badly we lag behind.

The jabs are endless and devastating. You’re overweight; you’re a failure. You got laid off from work; you’re a failure. Your relationship has ended; you’re a failure. You’re old; you’re a failure.

I can tell you that if you stay in the negativity and let it define you, you’ll find it harder and harder to break free. We can all find events or situations that we can define as failures but, in my experience, there are an equal number of experiences that we can define as successes.

The next time you find yourself thinking about failure, I want you to stop and remember that you are a good person, worthy of happiness and success. In fact, the next time your inner critic begins to chastise you, I want you to stop and listen to what it has to say. Use it as a feedback mechanism. Your critic is simply feeding back a disempowering belief you’re holding about yourself. This can be insightful.

Stop to ponder the origin of the message. Did it originate in childhood? Is the voice that of a parent, sibling or someone in a position of authority? Stop for the moment and imagine the opposite of what the critic claims is true. Look for reasons to support that alternate view. Stop the downward spiral before it takes you to a place of failure and defeat.

And before labeling yourself a failure, ask yourself how you define success. Is it making a million dollars? Is it owning a big house or being a celebrity? Look beyond societal definitions and you might discover that success is already there in countless small and surprising ways.

Failure is a given and expecting to cruise through life without the occasional pothole is unrealistic. In fact, believing so will actually set you up to fall harder when failure does occur. Trying to avoid failure will prevent you from gaining the insights and resiliency you need to move through disheartening experience in the future. In a society obsessed with success, failure can seem like the worst possible fate. In reality, failure is commonplace and so is overcoming it.

And even when failure cannot be salvaged, there’s always a lesson to be learned from it.

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker,” wrote American best-selling author, Denis Waitley. “Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

My new definition of success is to love, laugh and leave the world a better place for having been here. In that regard, I think I’ve finally succeeded and I’ll wager that you have too.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.

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