I’m excited to share with you an insightful and helpful guest post today.
Our current generation has come to recognize failure as an extremely painful experience that must be vigorously avoided. Some have grown so terrified of failure that they simply try nothing at all (trying new hobbies, setting goals, taking steps to earn better grades, etc.). Upon closer examination, the fear of failure is a misnomer – we have grown to become afraid of failure because we fear failure on the first attempt. We can all chuckle that, of course, none of us expect ourselves (or children, partners, co-workers, etc.) to do something we have never done before perfectly the first time, yet we continue to perpetuate this expectation multiple times every day upon ourselves.
From a young age, we are taught that being correct results in rewards and being wrong results in punishment. Some examples include: receiving a lower score on a test; losing a game; being scolded for not paying attention; being teased by peers; or, worst case scenario, a viral video mocking someone’s shortcomings and shared online. In most cases, we are not encouraged (beyond lip service) that there is much value in trying to accomplish something new even if we fail at our first attempt. This lack of encouragement leads us to learning that it is better to not try and save face, rather than try and perhaps be wrong.
Social media further compounds the pressure of this unreasonable expectation. We are subjected online to viewing highlight reels of perfect lives without viewing the trial and error that led to the finished product/person. For example, if we were to critically analyze the type of information we see on Facebook, we would notice the frequency of wedding announcements, job promotions and other achievements is much higher when compared to the information about divorces, job losses, and other set backs. The same comparison goes for Pinterest – we know that it usually takes several attempts before a dessert or DIY project turns out perfectly and can be pinned on our board.
How do we step back from unfair expectations about getting everything we do correct the first time?
First attempt in learning (F.A.I.L)
Set reasonable expectations and be clear about your value. If you believe it is acceptable to try something and gain mastery over time, and you encourage or reward yourself (or others) for participating in each small step of learning, you will grow to see each step as an achievement, feeling positive about the overall experience. Like the saying, “It’s more about the journey than the destination,” and the process of achieving a task will be more meaningful and satisfying than the actual outcome.
Thou shalt not should on one’s self
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind when you step back to see if you are adopting unreasonable expectations is to leave out the word “should.” If you believe that “you should do something right the first time,” “you should not make a mistake” or “you should be getting straight A’s in school,” you will become a prisoner to these unreasonable expectations during your lifetime. Happiness equals reality minus expectations. Shed the word “should.” The fewer times you use “should” or “should not” the happier you will be.
Our assumption that we must be good at everything does not really help us, and the truth is, we cannot be good at all things, but learning what we are good at, as well as what we are not, helps us narrow our focus and gain a stronger sense of who we are and our “gifts”. Additionally, confidence comes from overcoming challenges, problem solving and figuring stuff out. When things come naturally we don’t necessarily have the same pride in it as when we have put in effort to overcome setbacks and even, at times, experience failure. Confidence comes from overcoming a challenge – not from achieving something easy.
Recognize failure-hating avoidance is more like failing than success
While we think we are protecting our self from the cost of humiliation, there are zero gains through avoidance. By trying something new and different, we can gain mastery, confidence or at the very least an awareness about our self that may guide us to our next endeavor.