This post is a summary of my talk at the Iowa Distinguished Young Women’s Dinner in February 2017.
When I was asked to speak on the topic of “Advice I’d Give My Eighteen-Year-Old Self,” it was hard for me to narrow down all of the possible avenues I could go. Because in all reality, eighteen-year-old Cassie could have used a LOT of advice 😉
But since I had to narrow it down to one piece of advice, it all boiled down to this:
Conquer the F Words!
Any guesses what they are?
Keep it PG here!
Well, I’ll just spell it out for ya…
FEAR OF FAILURE.
Even typing that is a little anxiety inducing, lol!
I really do believe this is something we all struggle with to some degree, so please, if you are the one person who doesn’t, just drop me a little email or comment or something to let me know you exist. Thanks.
But for the rest of us – where does this Fear of Failure come from? In my opinion, it is a learned behavior. Think about it: little kids are fearless! If you walk into a preschool room and ask the kids what they want to be when they grow up, they will tell you all the things. Teacher, doctor, construction worker, ballerina, singer, artist, a tractor, and on and on and on….and most times it’s multiple things. Because we tell them they can be and do anything (except maybe be a tractor…that kid might have to rethink things). And they really believe they can do it. But somewhere along the way, the world gets in the way and tells us we can’t. That our dreams are too silly, hard, big, unworthy, far-fetched; and so that fear that we might actually fail sets in.
I was able to pin-point three related areas that Fear of Failure comes from in my life, and I think they will resonate with you as well.
School was fairly easy for me. As a high school student, it was recommended that I take some AP courses. I remember standing in my kitchen with my mom, reading over the paper they sent home detailing the expectations of students in AP courses. Three hours of homework each night, rigorous academic standards, highly likely that an A student would get much lower a grade in these classes, and so on. I froze. The workload seemed way too daunting, and what was meant to be an encouraging opportunity was met with the fear that if I tried this, I might FAIL. So I didn’t. If I couldn’t practically guarantee success, I usually wouldn’t do it.
When you focus on perfectionism, you let the Fear of Failure stop you from even trying.
I remember sitting for hours in the back of our family conversion van (can I get a swagger wagon shout out!) as we traveled for family holidays and trips. I would play the same Broadway musical soundtrack over and over, visualizing what it would be like to actually be on Broadway – to act, to sing, to become those roles. It was my dream of all dreams as this girl with a giant, overactive imagination. But I never told anyone.
I was afraid of the opinions from others. That my dream would be seen as silly. I lacked the confidence to even voice my desires to anyone. And I saw everyone around me as better, more able than myself. I was so busy living in the fear of potential failure that in created this significant doubt and insecurity in anything I did have to offer.
Insecurity steals your confidence and doesn’t allow you to appreciate your own unique abilities.
Oh boy. Even mr. “fear of failure never affected me,” you can surely relate to this one.
The Fear of Failure blanketed my entire pageant experience. You might be thinking, “But wait, you competed. You didn’t let that fear hold you back.” And on some level you are right. But the Fear of Failure is deeper than that, and knows how to worm its way through conquering perfectionism and insecurity, rearing its ugly head once again, almost unrecognizably, in the form of comparison.
I competed at Miss Iowa (America) four times, and placed every year. But I was constantly, constantly comparing myself to other girls. I had a binder where I printed out the stats of all of my competitors and studied their strengths and weaknesses, evaluating how I perceived I would measure up against them. It’s as if I thought their shortcomings would equal my success, like it could have any effect on the outcome. If I had spent even half the time improving my own skills as I did on worrying about theirs, I might have come away with the title. But even more than that, comparison is the thief of JOY. I know I missed out on deepening relationships and enjoying experiences simply because I was caught up in the comparison of it all.
The first year I went to Miss Iowa, I was eighteen and the youngest contestant on stage. I formed one of the best friendships of my life that year, partly because we simply enjoyed our time and didn’t worry or put pressure on ourselves to be anything we weren’t. We placed first and second runner up. There’s a difference between working hard to better yourself and be your best self, and working hard to try to beat everyone else. You don’t need to win because everyone else sucked – you win because you were the best you and the best choice for the job, no matter who else is competing.
Facebook is a breeding ground for comparison. We’ve seen major studies about the depressive nature of social media, and comparison is the reason. “Here, world. See snapshots of exactly what I want you to see, let me use a filter because my natural self just won’t cut it, and cross my fingers people like my post!” Facebook and social media in general produce a false sense of “reality” that, in actual reality, makes us feel inadequate and less than when we let ourselves get too caught up in what others are presenting to you. Don’t forget, that’s really what it is: a presentation.
It is a highlight reel that includes exactly what you want and excludes anything you don’t want. And without proper perspective, it can be a harmful tool for comparison to grow.
Conquering the Fear of Failure
You are thinking this is all well and good and everything, but how do you get past the Fear of Failure? Well, I’m a how girl. I rarely, if ever, will mentor someone in an area for which I don’t have a “how” solution or exercise to give them. So, how do we battle these crippling deficiencies and truly Conquer the F Words?
I guess you’ll have to come back next time to see 😉