Last school year, I did something that left my parents in a state of anger, disappointment, and shock. No one saw it coming, and quite frankly, I didn't either. A wave of mixed emotions overcame my family when they realized that I would end the school year, with a - get this - failing grade of 88 in chemistry. Looking back, I was probably the only kid in my chemistry class who thought 88 was failing, but to my parents it was, making me terrified of that B+. But why are people in general so afraid to fail?
Psychologist Guy Winch pinpoints that a fear of failure is essentially a fear of shame, Winch explains that we are motivated to avoid failure not because we can’t manage emotions such as disappointment, frustration, and anger, but rather, it’s a direct attack on our egos. According to CEO Scott Mautz in his book Find the Fire, shame is a psychologically toxic emotion because instead of making you feel bad about your actions or your efforts, shame makes you feel bad about who you are. It gets to the core of our identities, our self-esteem, and our feelings of emotional well-being. It causes us to unconsciously find ways to mitigate the implications of a potential failure, time and time again, which often means to either abort the mission entirely, or to work overtime to ensure success.
In his book Ego is the Enemy, entrepreneur Ryan Holiday explains that our ego’s are these abstract parts of us, they may show bravado and confidence to onlookers, but deep down they’re scared. And the last thing the ego wants to experience is pain, which is often derived from shame. And so it’s often the emotion of shame that hinders us from succeeding, because we’re so inclined to protect our egos and our image.
I hit rock bottom 6th grade, my entire ego shattered and I was stripped of my confidence. After failing multiple times in succession, I stopped failing, because I stopped trying. The failing part was inevitable, to a degree, I couldn't do anything about it, but giving up destroyed me. I was too scared to try again, because I thought I would fail even harder next time. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As Stephen F Covey highlights in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we shouldn’t expend our energy on things that we can’t control. We should instead pour that same energy into things that we can control, ensuring that no matter how hard of a hit our ego takes, we can always hit back harder.