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  • Writer's picturePhilip Barker

'How do you get over the fear of failing?'

Have you ever thought you did a good job and then been told that it really wasn't that good?

This is the question I get asked a lot by students in an English class. It is perhaps more relevant in that

particular subject because:

- The marking is 100% subjective (people say it's not, but it totally is)

- It is often hard to understand the marking criteria

- You can't just turn to the back of the textbook and check the answer yourself (like in Maths)

There is a very simple and very understandable answer for this question - and don't worry, I will tell you, I promise), but before we can get to it, we need to look at this whole concept of 'failing'.

Whenever we see a baby in a TV show or film, the doctor, or untrained civilian (depending on the show) delivers the baby and immediately says 'congratulations, it's a beautiful baby girl/boy. The first thing that we hear coming into the world is the judgement of someone. I have not had any children myself, but after checking around with a few people that have had them, they concur that this is what is generally what people say when you have made your own human.

'It's beautiful! Congratulations!'

Granted, I can't imagine a person ever seeing a baby and screaming 'Sweet Jesus, what the hell went wrong!?' but that doesn't change the fact that this statement is people judging your baby from the very first day of it's life.

This continues as we head to school and are placed in 'gifted' or 'mainstream' or 'special needs' classes' - a hierarchy that is about as effective as you can make it when you have to control up to 35 children

for 6 hours.

When we start work, we apply for jobs and are told that we, based on the strength of a piece of paper - 'get' the job or 'fail' to get the job.

We hear the sentence 'Win against weight loss.' 'Win your arguments', 'win your dream job'.

There is an amusing scene in Arrested Development that I think sums it up:

'Do they get grades at this school?'

'Oh no, we don't believe in grades, we are well past that. Students either progress or... fluctuate in their progression.'

'So they get...'

'An F, for fluctuate.'

On top of that - most sports are defined by having a 'winning' and a 'losing' team.

I feel that this is pretty much it. It comes down to what 'failing' really means, and I think it won't actually surprise you to find out that to 'fail' has been drilled into your subconscious ever since you were a baby. You were either 'beautiful' or not. At school you were 'smart' or 'dumb' and all of the entertainment that your parents seem to like is defined by having 'winners' and 'losers'. This has subconsciously defined your view towards 'winning' or 'failing' as things that actually exist.

Here is the truth. They don't.

Failure isn't real.

Winning and Losing aren't real.

It's all in your head.

And what's even better is that you didn't put it there. But you are able to remove it. You just need to try and wrap your head around that 'failure' is just some dudes opinion. Just like that dickhead when you were born that said 'it's beautiful!'. While we seek that external validation, we will always be a slave to this 'failure' paradigm.

I put this to the test once with a collection of year 7 classes. The topic was 'creative writing'. They all wrote a story and I collected it to give them feedback. I then gave them their story back without a single mark on it and asked each of them individually if they liked their story. Most answered:

'I don't know... am I supposed to like it?'

This little experiment showed me that these kids have received so much validation - both positive and negative - that their own opinion is completely lost. How the hell are they supposed to enjoy life while they are still waiting to be told if they are supposed to be enjoying it?

In conclusion, stop looking at things you do as 'winning' or 'losing'. 'Passing' or 'failing'. Try to understand that every single thing you do is one more thing that you have done. If things make you happy, so be it. If things make you unhappy, that's that. Things are what they are. Go and do as many of them as possible. The construct of 'failing' is a prison that you can break out of. Just go and do something you enjoy and you will never be scared of failing again. 'Failing' is an idea that we can destroy together.


Phil Barker

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