Motivation Monday – Is “Failure” an Option?

Many of the posts I have started to write here – saved now as “drafts” – involve the results of action vs. “inaction.” This basic “is” or “is not” can be formulated into infinite numbers of “hypotheses” despite the fact that they all basically come down to the aforementioned basic “argument.” Today, for “Motivation Monday,” I want to discuss the idea of “failure” and how the fear of failure is something of a tautology. (I know, it’s not “Tautology Tuesday,” but I didn’t really write a proper tautological post last week!)

The fear of failure is a phobia faced by everyone I know with a “normal” psychological “makeup.” To illustrate this point, we can utilize quite a few words just to acknowledge this fear – atychiphobia and kakorrhaphiophobia just to name a few as well as the very closely related athazagoraphobia (essentially the fear of being forgotten – more on that later!). Often our “fears” serve an underlying “biologically” driven purpose – basically, fears are based in instinct to enable us to survive. We have evolved to have fears … so that we can continue to evolve. We fear heights because we know we will die if we fall. We fear snakes because we know if we are bitten … we will die. Most innate fears (or even fears that might be “over-the-top”) are based on the more basic fear of death – something that makes complete sense. But how is the fear of failure, something that is more or less universal to some degree, based on a more primal fear and what purpose does it really serve?

To answer these questions, we have to delve more deeply into psychology and philosophy than we do into physiology and biology. There are surely as many “explanations” for the fear of failure as there are people who experience it; however, to me, the fear of failure seems to be based on the fact that we are “social” animals, and “failure” in our minds equates with being ostracized by the “group” or “society.” If we accept this “lemma,” it seems, almost counterintuitively, that the more “comfortable” we are with our positions in society or within any given group, the greater the fear of failure (and the subsequent fear of rejection and ultimately of being forgotten … again, more on that later!) seems to become. However, higher “social standing” or even any “comfortable status” within a group (one can be considered a “nerd” in high school but be completely okay with that classification as long as he or she feels as if he or she is a part of a social group either of other “nerds” or if he or she is comfortable with this title in general – more on that to come as well!) brings a higher “price” to pay if failure ensues for any reason. If someone is in a highly regarded political position, for example, his or her failure in any way would inevitably bring not only greater repercussions to that individual but a greater awareness of that failure among the population than if a local politician were to “fail” in the same kind of way. It is the same for any number of “degrees” – if a doctor or a lawyer or someone with a great deal of education and investment “fails,” he or she has much more to lose than if someone “fails” at his or her job working as a cashier at a retail store – the latter individual hasn’t invested likely hundreds of thousands of dollars in his or her career and the failure as a cashier, for example, is much less likely to impact his or her chances of becoming a cashier (or attaining a “higher” position, for that matter) in the future than if a lawsuit were brought upon a doctor for something like malpractice. As I have stated in previous posts, cliches are often cliches for a reason, and so we have the saying “the higher ‘they’ stand, the harder ‘they’ fall.”

There are so many discussions that could emerge from just that previous paragraph. But for right now I just want to focus on the IDEA of the fear of failure and what that MEANS to us insofar as our action or inaction is concerned. Last summer, I delved “shallowly” into the works of many so-called contemporary “spiritual gurus” – people like Wayne Dyer, Anthony Robbins, Mel Robbins, et al. I say “shallowly” because there came a point for me with each of these “individuals” at which I simply couldn’t tolerate what was being said – the things that were said that drove me bonkers were outlandish and logically unsound, at best. However, there were certain ideas I took away from my many hours of reading and watching videos and TED talks and from these ideas, I started to formulate some of my own. The one of importance here is this basic idea –


To explain that a little more clearly, my idea of failure has evolved something like this –
1. We can either try to do something or not try to do something (the latter implies the fear of failure)
2. If we try to do something, we either accomplish that something or “fail” to accomplish that something;
3. However, the “failure” implied in attempting to accomplish “something” is a different “failure” than that implied in the “fear of failure;” there is action behind trying and “failing” and so the “failure” in trying to do something and not “succeeding” is NOT SUCCEEDING, it is NOT “failure.” Something HAS been accomplished, something has been learned – the repetition of attempting to accomplish this “something” in exactly the same way would be INSANITY, and so there is necessarily a change that occurs when one attempts to DO something but doesn’t achieve that SOMETHING
4. Given all of the above, failure is really the FAILURE to attempt to do anything in the first place.
5. If we accept all of these propositions, FAILURE, then, becomes the “default state;” that is, failure is the state we are in before we attempt to do anything, the state we are in when we think about doing something but never take any action to actually DO IT.

PHEW! That’s a long explanation for such a succinct “quote” / idea! What I am trying to get at is this idea that “FAILURE” can only be defined as the state we are in IFF (if and only if, again, for those non-Philosophy majors out there!) we CHOOSE NOT TO TAKE AN ACTION. As I mentioned in my first “Tautology Tuesday” post, the choice NOT to make a choice is, in fact, a choice. With this in mind, the CHOICE NOT TO TAKE AN ACTION IS, IN AND OF ITSELF, AN ACTION. Therefore, the choice not to attempt to do something is the choice to FAIL inherently; there is no failure in trying, since, as I mentioned above, the act of “failing” as defined by not succeeding more or less ensures that someone with “normal” mental faculties does not REPEAT the same exact process if he or she decides to try to succeed again.

To clarify this a little bit more I’ll come up with a hypothetical (goofy!) example – Suzie wants to go to college. She can either take the SAT (or ACT or whatever yinz kiddies take these days!) or she can choose not to take the SAT. If she CHOOSES NOT TO TAKE THE SAT, SUZIE HAS FAILED. THIS IS THE DEFAULT STATE – SHE HAS NOT MOVED FORWARD OR PROGRESSED TOWARD HER GOAL AND THEREFORE, HER “STATUS” STANDS AT A 0. However, Suzie can CHOOSE TO TAKE THE SAT. SIMPLY BY CHOOSING TO TAKE THIS TEST, SUZIE MOVES FROM “0,” THE “DEFAULT STATE,” OR THE STATE OF INNATE “FAILURE” (there is something she wants to do but fails to act on it and therefore hasn’t “moved” past the proverbial “starting line”) TO THE STATE OF “1,” THAT IS, NO MATTER WHAT HER RESULTS ARE ON THE SAT, SHE HAS SUCCEEDED IN MOVING FORWARD WITH HER GOAL. The OUTCOME of the test is not what is important here. EVEN IF SUZIE GETS A 200 ON THE SAT (assuming that is an actual score? Bear with me, please!), SHE HAS TRIED AND THIS HAS PUT HER IN A POSITION OF MOTION. IT IS NOW SUZIE’S CHOICE WHETHER OR NOT SHE STUDIES MORE AND DECIDES TO TAKE THE TEST AGAIN; AND THE CYCLE REPEATS. If, however, Suzie does not attempt to take the test or she does very poorly on the test and chooses not to try again, THAT IS WHERE THE FEAR OF FAILURE BECOMES PROBLEMATIC. THE FEAR OF FAILURE, INSOFAR AS ACTUALLY FEARING THE FAILURE, IS A FALLACY WE CONTRIVE IN OUR MINDS. We do fear social repercussions, of course; we fear being looked down on by anyone, ourselves included. However, NOT TRYING ABSOLUTELY ENSURES THAT WE FAIL. There ARE people for whom this IS a viable option – I cannot really wrap my head around that one because to me, the fear of failure is real (albeit deductively unsound) and FAILURE, as defined above, is VERY, VERY REAL. To me, if I think about “failure” in these terms, we can view one’s life from its end – that is to say, the fear of “failure” is the fear that one NEVER ESCAPES THE DEFAULT STATE, THAT IS, THAT ONE NEVER ACCOMPLISHES ANYTHING BY WHICH HE OR SHE WILL BE REMEMBERED. AND THAT FEAR, as I mentioned at the very beginning of this post, is HUGE – it is, perhaps, the greatest “motivator” we have or construe in our lives. I will, without a doubt, come back to that one on more than one occasion.

At any rate, I have rambled on enough! I hope that was coherent – I will certainly come back and proofread this post when my head is a little clearer (I am SICK today – I have a cold or some virus, and the combined effects of a primary immune deficiency as well as having a suppressed immune system mean that any “little” “bug” turns into something of a monster.). I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic – the idea of failure as well as the FEAR OF FAILURE and how you would define both of these things. I know I have the tendencies both to ramble as well as to get into topics a little too deep to cover in ONE post, so please bear with me while I get this “blog” together! I do hope you are all having a happy and HEALTHY day, wherever you are in the world (there are an awful lot of “little bugs” going around in my little part of the world!)! Thank you for taking the time to read this one and I hope it has given you a little bit of insight into MOTIVATION and has MOTIVATED YOU just to ACT.

My heart is with YOU.

❤ Always, Beth


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