Do You Have the Fear of Failure?

Looking back, my fear of failure was pretty evident. Exactly what are the classic signs that we are High-FFs (as I call those with a higher fear of failure in What?s Stopping You?)- both as a kid and a adult? Here's a few - some from personal experience, some from the wide body of psychological research on the subject (and all of with the caveat that any one of these traits isn't evidence itself of the fear of failure - there might be other explanations).

1) Difficulty settling into mainstream activities. As above, this was certainly a major one for me. I couldn't settle in any club or formalised non-curricular activity. Partly this was because of a natural rebelliousness (see below) but a core problem was i secretly feared failure and, therefore, sought avoiding the activity. Occasionally I'd be tempting in - seeing other boys enjoying football or church-hall dramatics or chess - but it would never last. Even as an adult, hobbies are fleeting and soon forgotten - usually following the first humiliation.

2) Rebelliousness. This may include music-based cultures - perhaps punks or (these days) emos where the "shock"' is generally delivered through inappropriate dress. Yet it can develop into something much more serious - perhaps indulging in misdemeanours related to the social backdrop of the sufferer. This includes becoming disruptive in class, becoming a petty vandal, a shop-lifter, car-jack, or perhaps just a smoker. Bullying or, if less confident, becoming one of the bully's lieutenants is - surprisingly - another trait of the classic High-FF (anything that rejects mainstream behaviour).

3) Exam stress. It's an obvious one but even mild fear of failure may cause extreme exam stress, with High-FFs potentially taking their avoidance tactics (conscious or otherwise) to extremes. Feigning illness (or maybe experiencing the illness), panic attacks and in some cases deliberately sabotaging the exam are common avoidance tactics (perhaps feigning an "I don't care" attitude).

4) "Dream fulfilment" careers. Many of the most outwardly-ambitious people may, in fact, be indulging in High-FF avoidance of sensible but challenging opportunities. These can include those dedicated to "wildest dream" opportunities such as pop stardom or TV fame. Crucially, the near-impossibility of achieving the dream means they'll be kindly judged for being "a trier", but it may mask their avoidance of realistic but challenging career choices (usually involving qualifications). Watch early episodes of the X-Factor or some other reality Tv program for examples.

5) Acting the clown. This one can follow us all the way through our lives. High-FFs are usually the school, office or shopfloor clown - the joker that everybody likes, despite (and partly due to) their lowly status. On the surface at least, being the popular cheeky-chappie seems to be more vital to the office clown that making progress. However, it is usually a mask hiding an inner sense of inadequacy.

6) Avoiding promotion. High-FFs can actively attempt to avoid promotion, even when they are the most obvious candidate. Excuses can vary (including claiming a "fear of success") yet it's usually based upon an inner conviction that failure and - importantly - humiliation will result. Many declare themselves happier among the troops as opposed to officers or show no desire to "fall out with Fred/John/Joan" who could be contesting the promotion.

7) Criticising and feuding. The High-FF's view of their workplace (or school, studio, college) is usually to be a negative one. Indeed, High-FFs are often highly critical of how all external life is executed - sometimes publicly and vocally so. They could be part of the moaning canteen gang - perhaps its leader. And so they can direct their criticisms at particular individuals - usually those they fear. Inevitably this leads to petty rivalries that can even develop into full-blown and disruptive feuds. Oddly, the other end of the scale - over-enthusiasm - could also be a mask to cover self-perceived inadequacies.

8) Injustice convictions. This was definitely one of my major giveaways - assuming slights or insults were meant and private, looking (and usually finding) prejudice or favouritism to others (real or otherwise), developing acute paranoia around the intentions of colleagues and managers. Obviously, these may come to be self-fulfilling prophesies if we are not careful, and may also result in a disastrous vengeful attitude. In its extreme, this leads to pilfering and absenteeism along with other misbehaviour based on a "why shouldn't I?" mentality.

9) Poor luck. High-FFs are convinced they have poor luck. They are always in the wrong place at the wrong time, especially at those crucial moments. Job interviews are blighted by late trains or random illnesses (food poisoning from a banana was one of mine). New jobs or promotions have unexpected crises or challenges visited upon them only after we arrive - all seemingly beyond our control. Certainly, in truth we've been searching the horizon for icebergs, and immediately manning the lifeboats, rather than giving them the wide berth the prior captain quietly managed.

10) Choking. This is perhaps an apparent one but one no less harmful for that. Job interviews, presentations, key meetings - those important moments which need a solid performance will be the very moments we lose our self-confidence and "choke". We may even develop physical traits such as shakes, or sweats, or perhaps a wobbly voice. More usually we say stupid things, forget obvious answers and come across as being a fool: the most common self-fulfilling outcomes of High-FF behaviour, in other words.
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