We hate to fail. There’s a lot to unpack in that four-letter word. Of course we hate failing at something, we get physical responses like a pit in the stomach and blushing. We may receive social ridicule. There may be financial loss. We may lose social status. Worse yet, we may self-identify as a failure.
The fact to remember is that to fail is something that happens; it’s not a human being. If you make a mistake, you have the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson. This line of thinking is not new. Yet most people are afraid of admitting and owning up to their mistakes. This is why attempts to cover up our mistakes are common.
Often times, the original mistake or crime is not the actual worst error; the cover-up, when eventually discovered, can bring down the high and mighty. This is closely related to playing the blame game. Do you remember playing the blame game as a child and adolescent? I blush as I remember the times I did.
“The young think that failure is the Siberian end of the line, banishment from all the living, and tend to do what I then did –which was to hide.”–James Baldwin
Observe a group of adolescents for a long time. They are society condensed into a small package. There is the aspect of acquaintances jockeying to become friends. There is the inclination to become the leader of the pack–either subtle or overt. When one of the members commits a faux pas there is the fear that he will be shunned by the rest. Exile from a social group is one of our innate fears. Life is difficult for people who are excluded from society.
In our species’ not so distant past, exile from protection of the tribe often meant death. In the case of adolescents, being shunned by one’s peers feels like social death. The concept of shunning has been present in our species since prehistoric times. We fear committing the wrong kind of mistakes because of the risk of exclusion.
Aside from committing serious crimes, failure is a positive ingredient in success. After making a mistake, the wise person gets up and tries again. That person has discarded the fear of failure. They learned the lesson of “shoulda, coulda, woulda”. The epic fail is that of giving up on oneself.
When analyzing my own flubs and reluctance to owning them, I attribute the aversion to admission of error to personal pride or egotism. We prefer to be correct and successful. When we slip up, we risk being seen by others as imperfect and foolish. At the risk of repeating a trite proverb, it’s helpful to remember that, in most instances, people do not care what you do or don’t do. There will be people who encourage you–take what they say with a grain of salt. There will be others who oppose you–don’t take their opinions too seriously, either.
Do what your heart says you must. Failures will happen–they’re a normal part of life.