Can fear of failure be a weakness?

Ted was about 50 years old when, in1955, Spaulding dared him to write a book. Not any ordinary children book.Like Ted had written before. But a special one. With a preset list of 100 words that Spaulding had picked himself. If it wasn’t enough, the book couldn’t exceed the total of 250 words.

If Ted could solve the problem this challenge posed, Spaulding would publish the dire book. Being an author, who had to have his books published, in order to make a living, it was an opportunity hard to pass on.

However, when Ted received Spaulding’s list, he put it in a tray in his office and ignored it. He had never done something like this; writing a book with so many constraints. He doubted himself. Not being sure he was good enough for the job.Even though he had already written more than 10 children books before.

After a few months, he went back to Spaulding’s 100 words. “I read (the list) forty times and got more and more discouraged.” [ 1 ]

In the weeks and months that followed,Ted tried to take on that list from different angles. One of them was to use some of the 100 words to draw different characters from. So he could at least have something to build a story from. It didn’t really work. One thing did, though. “I was desperate and decided to read it (e.g. Spaulding’s list) once more. The first two words that rhymed would be the title of my book and I’d go from there. I found ‘cat’ and then I found ‘hat’.“ [ 2 ]

A STORY THAT SOUNDS VERY FAMILIAR…

Although it is Ted’s story, it’s not like if you and I have never heard something similar. It rather sounds very familiar. For what it is about: learning to deal with the fear of failure.

Over time and through experiences,you learn different things and develop certain skills. Both help you find a way to make a living. Getting there isn’t easy. It comes at a cost, and brings its share of failures with it. Things that leave you with some scars. Self-doubt and fear of failure being only two of them.

Later, you come across another challenge. One that isn’t a twin copy of a problem you’ve encountered before.

Because not everything is clear on “Day 1” – as what this problem is really about, who’s involved, why, what’s the best way to proceed in order to succeed, how long will it take, at what cost – it makes you question yourself.

I’m really not sure… It’s not even funny. (…) What am I gonna do about _____? (…)Do I have what it takes? (…) I’m not sure. I don’t think so…

It’s like solving a puzzle with missing pieces. Not many people really like doing that. Most don’t, actually.

So you ask yourself “Do I really want to solve this… or should I just wait‘til it passes?” The bigger the challenge, the higher the chances are that people choose to do as if the problem doesn’t exist. Or, in some cases, they constantly find an excuse to not act on it right away.  

Why? Because they can’t predict or be sure at 100% that whatever decisions they’ll make, and actions they’ll take will work. Trying to project themselves in the future don’t make things better. As it’s not necessarily the best case scenarios that usually come to people’s mind, then. It’s usually the worse case ones. “What will happen if I fail? What will be the consequences, and price to pay?

This can go one for ages. Doubting yourself and being afraid to fail, that is.

Until that moment where, just like Ted, you finally make a decision. “Do I really want to get over with this problem or not?

… BUT THE STORY DOESN’T ALWAYS ENDS THE SAME WAY

No problem or challenge is important the same way to everyone. Which explains why different people tend to make a different decision when facing the same problem.

Which also explains why no one person’s story ends the same way.

For Ted, being able to solve this children book challenge that Spaulding gave him, was a possible way to keep earning money from his craft. For someone who didn’t work as a children book author? This problem wouldn’t have been one worth even considering being a problem.

The fun part in Ted’s story is when you compare it with other life stories. One thing you come to realize,in doing so, is that some things never change.

The number of ways us,humans, have found to share knowledge between one another has exploded over the years. From the oral storytelling, around the tribe’s fire pit, to the file sharing and online classes, on our personal computers.

Yet, when we’re facing a challenge we’ve never encountered before, we spontaneously react the same way our ancestors did. Meaning, we get scared and start to doubt ourselves.

One interesting fact, though, is that our ancestors also found the best tool, when we find ourselves in such situation.Which one? Building your personal confidence.

As, despite all the technological breakthroughs we’ve gone through, a boosted personal confidence has remained the single most reliable tool to overcome our fear of failure.

The one thing we need to do – in order to build this boosted confidence? To learn new things and develop new skills.

It also happens to be one way to answer the age-old question “How can I get rid of my fear of failure?

 At least, it’s the one that Ted Geisel used, when Spaulding dared him to write no ordinary children book, in1955. The result? Ted wrote “The cat in thehat”. A book that, once it was published in 1957, allowed Ted to become known as Dr Seuss by a greater number of children and parents.

Can fear of failure be a weakness? Yes. If you let it be an excuse for not doing something,instead of a reason to get ready for a challenge. Let it be writing a children book, or speaking in front of a group during a meeting.

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Photo by: William Stitt

Design by: Di Mellon

Notes:

1, 2 = “DrSeuss & Mr Geisel”, by Judith & Neil Morgan (Random House, 1995), p 154

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