Learning to Be With the Fear of Failure…

As a former professional athlete, one of the things I was known for was my strong personal will and determination. Yes I know some people would find that hard to believe, however in the past I was quite determined to see how far I could push my body as well as how much I could achieve. However, the interesting thing was when I did well (by that I mean achieve success), it wasn’t that long after I got injured or sick (you can see a clip about my tennis journey here).

After much deep reflection and meditation during this past year, I can see I have carried numerous patterns throughout my life and one of them was fear of failure. So what was going on for me to do this?

Well to be honest, I didn’t know until recently! However, in saying that, there were a couple of things I can now see that were happening. One of them was, I had faulty thinking around what success and failure meant and I had misperceived reality. Somehow in my mind I had made up (which then became part of my identity as I believed these thoughts) that if I achieved lots and was successful, I would know what was going to happen in the future, be safe and have a sense of control. Subsequently, there was a gap created between what I wanted (success) and what I didn’t want (failure and the fear that went with it) and this was preventing me from being whole.

Secondly, underneath it all, I was also covering up my feelings of insufficiency, shame and unworthiness (e.g. not being good enough the way I was), worried what other people would think of me and protecting myself from those vulnerabilities. I definitely did not want to feel these feelings (as I was extremely scared) and I also did not want to admit that I really didn’t know what the future held (yes I just wrote that).

Actually if we are truly honest with ourselves, no-one knows what the future holds as it hasn’t happened yet. There is a part of the mind (sometimes called the ego) that doesn’t like this, however as I write this I feel a sense of freedom and openness. That dense feeling around my stomach is subsiding and this shows me this was another way I was creating my own suffering.

Thirdly, I was fearful of failure and what that involved. As an athlete, my whole livelihood was built around my last result and if I didn’t win or do well, then that was it. So yes I can now see why I pushed myself so much, however I can also see that it was an illusion as it was how my mind split itself and made it part of my identity (as failure and success co-exist).

Interestingly enough, one of my realisations on my spiritual journey (or living now and just being with what is) is I have had to let go of my personal will and instead allow and accept life as it is (which sometimes is easier said than done and I continue to catch myself when I am out of the moment and go for one of my finely tuned avoidance strategies – i.e. eating chocolate) and learn to use my intuition and trust that – which continues to be a learning process.

One of the things I found when I actually sat with failure and the thoughts/feelings/body sensations of fear around it, is it gradually subsided. Now I am not saying it has all gone and I have no fear or that this was an easy process by any means. For me it wasn’t! There was quite a bit of emotion. In many ways the process of sitting with the fear of failure was like a death, as I was letting that part of my identity (or ego) go or maybe just consciously being with the fear would be more accurate. After a while, I felt more open and alive in this moment!

What have been my realisations? 

I realised I misperceived reality of what success and failure meant (and wanted one and tried to avoid the other) and this created suffering for me. As reality just is the way it is (everything and nothing intertwined), I made meaning out of it by wanting life to be different from the way it was and now it is time to let it be and accept all of me (yes all of me – not just the aspects people want to talk about, like my tennis career). I also realise failure/success co-exist and the real authentic me cannot be labelled, which is so freeing! It reminds me of the quote by Soren Kirkegaard – “Once you label me, you negate me”.

Where to from here?

Well, I don’t know what the future holds and somehow I am getting more comfortable with that. What I do know is I am continuing to learn more about myself and just accept me (yes – everything) as I am and that is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves – 100% self-acceptance and with that goes self-compassion. I will continue to be still – feeling and being with everything this brings, which can take me out of my comfort zone at times. I will also remember the following from Hsin Hsin Ming: The Book of Nothing:

“The Great Way is not Difficult, for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinion for or against… The struggle of what one likes and dislikes is the disease of the mind.” 

Thanks so much for reading and feel free to share any comments with me below or via the contact us page. In-joy, Jane xx


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