"All sorts of entertaining" - Elizabeth Seckman

"Michael and his pals make me wish I lived in Adelaide" - Cherdo

"If I had a daughter, I'd send her to Australia to meet him (and marry him)" - Robyn Alana Engel

"An Australian version of me. Only younger. And Talented. And better looking. Okay, nothing like me." - Al Penwasser

"Whom must I fuck or pay to get a quotation at the top of your blog post?" - Janie Junebug

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Fear of Failure

I've been doing improv classes for a while. On Wednesday, I did my first ever public performance - a kind of mock-competition, one of those ones where the result doesn't really matter, it's the entertainment value that counts. I had recently realised I had a lot to learn when it came to improv - because I'd spent so much of my life in the comedy field and making people laugh, I assumed that was the aim when it came to improv. Not so. The aim is to create an engaging story arc, whether it's side-splittingly funny or tear-jerkingly honest. This meant there were some serious flaws in my skill that I had to work on, such as my habit of breaking the fourth wall. It was making me take a lot longer to react and affecting my game.

Add to that on this particular night, two girls I knew came in to watch. I was so worried about giving a bad performance in front of them that I became scared to take any risks. That whole night I barely said a word and let the others do all the talking. I was scared of saying the wrong thing, saying something that wasn't funny or pertinent, scared of stepping on someone else's line and scared of blocking others. I got eliminated fairly early, sat quietly on the sidelines for the rest of the show and then busied myself in my phone until the two girls walked out so that I wouldn't have to talk to them.

Why did that happen? What is it about the fear of looking stupid or getting things wrong that makes us hesitate to even attempt something? Thinking about it even more, I realised that for the longest time, I hadn't been applying to jobs I should apply to, hadn't pursued some of my more challenging dreams for fear that I'd waste all my time on it, hadn't asked out any girls that I thought I'd work well with... I have a fear of rejection and a fear of looking stupid and it's crippling. I went online that night to look up "fear of failure" and what I could do about it. Here's what the first website said:

Have you ever been so afraid of failing at something that you decided not to try it at all?

Yes.

 Or has a fear of failure meant that subconsciously, you undermined your own efforts to avoid the possibility of a larger failure?

Um, well... No, I don't think that's the case...


Fear can be very immobilising. When we allow our fear to stop our progress in life, we're likely to miss some great opportunities along the way.

Well yes, I know that. We all do. But it's not like my life's at a standstill, there's just a few key areas where I need to improve.

Causes of a Fear of Failure:

Ah, here we go.

To understand what causes a fear of failure, we must first understand what it means...

Oh geez. Look at this, four paragraphs later and they're still in definition mode. Let's skip ahead a bit.


Signs of a Fear of Failure:

Nope.

 Failure - A Matter of Perspective:

Urgh.

Overcoming your fear:

HERE we go. Now we get to the good stuff.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to overcome your fear of failure.
  • Analyze all potential outcomes - Many people fear failure because of fear of the unknown. Remove that fear by considering all the potential outcomes of your decision.
  • Learn to think more positively - Positive thinking is a powerful tool for building self confidence and neutralising self-sabotage.
  • Look at the wost-case scenario - In some cases, the worst case scenario may be genuinely disastrous and your fear my be perfectly rational. In other cases, it might not be so bad.
  • Have a contingency plan - Having a plan B may reduce the consequences of failing in the first place.
Many of us are afraid of failing, but we mustn't let that fear stop us from moving forward. By moving steadily and taking things one step at a time, you'll be able to get over your fear and move on with life.

That................. was the worst piece of shit article I've ever read. What kind of tips were they? Think positively? Have a backup plan? How on Earth does it help to say What you're scared of may be real... Or it may not be? Looking at more and more articles down the Google listings, they all said pretty much the same thing. Useless drivel from people who clearly didn't understand how to deal with fear.

I decided that if I'm going to get over this fear of failure, I'm going to have to work it out myself. I'm a tackle-things-head-on kind of guy. I'm going to have to spend a little while putting myself in situations where I'm very likely to fail. Maybe if I get exposure to looking stupid or being rejected, I'll start to see those moments as the learning opportunity they really are.

So that's it, I now have a new adventure. From today until February 1 next year (subject to change), I'm going to confront my fear of failure head-on. I decided to commence this project with very little thought for the consequences and no plan of action... so I've made a good start already ;)

56 comments:

  1. Good luck. I will watch your journey with a great deal of interest.
    Not fear of, but the expectation of failure has paralysed me more often than I care to admit.
    My first step is self-confidence and belief in myself. Simple sounding, difficult to do.

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    1. Incredibly difficult. Confidence is hard to manufacture.

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  2. I admit I used to be a scardy cat when asking girls out. But then I thought what is the absolute worst that can, in all likely hood, happen? They say no and I be on my way, whoopi. So I got rid of that fairly easily. And now with writing I have thick skin, so nothing much bothers me. Never cared about acting stupid or being thought stupid because in the end what 99.99% of the 7 billion people in the world think of you, doesn't matter.

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    1. By the end of this experiment I hope to be able to behave like I believe it.

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  3. My Dad always told me," They aren't going to kill you so what's the worry?"
    I think we tend to make it out worse than it should be.
    When I find myself faced with potential failure I shrug my shoulders and I say,"It is what it is. If I fail this time just make sure I learn something from it."

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    1. Intellectually, I know failure is important, but I often avoid it anyway :P

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  4. Hi Michael. First of all, now you know the difference between what you thought as Improv and the reality. That's a plus! Might that issue have dampened the mood just a bit? You might think, further if this is really something you want to continue. It's purely experience, and that alone might encourage confidence, if you need that? I've always thought of you as quite confident in your endeavors.

    Secondly, gezz... how you could you possibly know the two girls would arrive together? And considering the opposite situations that had ocurred regarding your participation (or lack of), with them... oh heck, I began shaking my head as soon as I read that part of your post! You're giving them a lot of credit for your life choices. Okay, so you played low key on the Improv moment... well, shoot, first time out, give yourself a break.

    However, this new project sounds like it's going to be a hoot! Personally, if I were you, I'd carry autographed photos of me, jumping out of a plane and hand them out. Women love adventuresome types, and oh yeah, life insurance policies. My two cents... pence... (smile).

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    1. This is one my favourite comments I've ever gotten for a wide variety of reasons.

      I tend to be confident when I'm sure I'll succeed. Even with skydiving, it's actually pretty rare that things go wrong.

      I'm not surprised the girls came together because met the second one through the first one. It was a little bit dramatic for a while because they were both happening or more or less the same time.

      Maybe I'll make a Tinder profile with that skydiving photo as the cover ;)

      And Australia stopped using pounds and pence in the mid-1900s. We use dollars and cents now ;)

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  5. Good for you to challenge your comfort zone yet again! Remember the old chinese maxim "Fall down 10 times, get up 11."

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  6. I applaud you Mr. D'Agostino; it takes courage and character to face one's fears head on!
    Facing fears isn't easy for me so I try to balance out fear with love... not quite as 'dippy' as it reads. I ask myself two things: 1. Does the fear have some validity. (Like being afraid to out on an icy/snowy day when my movements are particularly strong.) If so, I try to figure out if it's necessary for me to do whatever it is that strikes fear in my heart. 2. If it's invalid, is it stopping me from doing something I love? (Fear of being stared at, etc... stopping me from going out in public? NOT gonna happen.)

    Hmmmm, that gives me an idea...

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    1. Don't worry, I didn't think it sounded dippy. I understand what you mean. You seem to be able to rationalize your emotions quite well :)

      Looking forward to this idea ;)

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  7. When I was 4 or 5 years old, I was invited to a birthday party and refused to go. My mom said, "You'll play games and have a great time." I responded, "That's why I'm not going. We'll play Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and I might put the tail in the wrong place." Her explanation that putting it in the wrong place was the whole point...but I was having none of it. I was NOT looking stupid in front of people.

    I've struggled with that all my life, but, like you, I made up my mind not to let fear of failure/rejection/ridicule paralyze me. I've learned that stepping well outside my comfort zone over and over and over has had a cumulative positive effect. I have succeeded many more times than I've failed, and even when I did fail, it didn't kill me, so the idea of failing has come to have less and less power over me.

    I will say that the worst-case scenario thing really has worked for me though. I still ask myself, "What's the worst that could happen?" And not one single bad thing I've ever envisioned has happened yet.

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    1. That's interesting: It never occurred to me that the worst thing that could happen never actually eventuates.

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  8. There is caution and prudence, and then there is fear. Knowing the difference is what matters.
    I'm a bit of what's the worst thing that could happen and not really having a clue. I figure the worst thing that could happen is I fail (actually the worst would be if I died, but that's another thought entirely) - but if I don't, I will positively fail. My chances are better if I do it. Not having a clue - well, that's just a bit of being naive in not realizing that I could fail or how much will be involved not to fail. I just do it.
    Sorry those two girls' presence about did you in on improv night.

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    1. That's okay, I'll earn from it ;)

      There's definitely a difference between the worst thing that could happen and the worst REALISTIC thing that could happen.

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  9. I did stand-up for a while and my mantra was, "Okay, you might fail...but you're the only one up here actually DOING it."

    My other thing is to tell myself: "Whatever happens...this is going to make a great story..."

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    1. That second thought drove me all of last year and I hope it does so this year as well.

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  10. I think we're all afraid of failure. It's failing that makes us grow though. We fail, and hopefully learn from our mistakes.

    When I was a kid I was so shy I couldn't even order at a fast food place. Now I teach. Was it easy to get there? Nope. It just takes practicing, and lots of failing before you can achieve things.

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    1. That's right, learning to fail is a skill just like everything else.

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  11. One more thing, there is always going to be people that judge you. Sometimes I hear giggling from the students. I most the time keep going. If it's too distracting I stop and say, "Is there anything you want to add..." They usually stop in their tracks. I'd say most of the time they are laughing about what happened that weekend, or something with the opposite sex. If they only knew what it was like to be me, thinking they are laughing at me. Those that judge are usually the quiet ones. It's kind of surprising.

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    1. And usually those that judge are the ones that can't do ;)

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  12. Regarding your comment above, "I tend to be confident when I'm sure I'll succeed." I know the feeling, and that really does go a long way. I still don't know if I could do improv (and I'll never skydive!), but a few months ago the two of us talked to an elementary school about how cool it was to be a writer and despite being really nervous, ended up doing amazingly well. It made us both want to do things like that more often. So for me at least the key to knowing you're going to succeed is just throwing yourself in the water as often as you can and getting yourself familiar with unfamiliar territory. Sooner or later you forget why you were even nervous in the first place.

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    1. Yes! That's what I hope to achieve here.

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  13. Hold on, you do comedy and improv (not mutually exclusive) and you're still afraid of failure? That seals it, we're ALL afraid of failure. Isn't comedy and improv about failing until you get it right? It seems it's more of those intimate, one-on-one failures that you're afraid of rather than those in front of strangers style failures.
    Something that helped me was realizing that most of life is failing, but nobody remembers the failing, they remember the successes. Thomas Edison has a good quote: 'I have not failed. I've just found 10000 ways that won't work.' Professional athletes, if you look at it, fail more than they succeed, but it's the successes that people remember. So keep on f*cking up until one time, you don't. Hopefully, once you conquer this, you don't get to my fear: fear of success.
    Great post, by-the-way.

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    1. Thanks man. I think you're right, it's in the less public moments that I get scared of being rejected.

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  14. I fear failure. Big time.

    Love,
    Janie

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  15. Oh Michael, you are awesome. Any girl who doesn't want to date you is losing out.
    If we're being honest, we all fear failure. There's a song in Hebrew the English translation to which is something to the effect of "All the world is a narrow bridge. The most important thing is to take action despite your fears." (I'm changing the wording, because it's hard to translate directly. The more literal translation is: "The most important thing is not to be afraid." But if we're not afraid, we're not human.)

    I'm reading a really insightful, fast-paced book on resistance/fear: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It's really good and a quick read. I highly recommend it.

    Keep faith. You're a good one.

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    1. Hahaha thanks Robyn ;) I'll add that book to my list.

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  16. I know a wise man who once said, "Things have a better chance of working if you try them." Keep working at it, and things really will get easier. Michael, you have a wonderful sense of humor, and you have that calm, cool, James Bond skydiving look going on, so any girl would be lucky to go out with you! Just say "hi" with your Aussie accent, smile with your boyish grin, and everything will fall into place.

    Julie

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  17. Someone on Reddit once said "Nobody gives a shit about you, except for you."

    Even though there are definitely ways of interpreting that statement which are negative I think there are also positive aspects to be taken from it.

    Other people look at you in pretty much the same way you look at them - most of the time with little interest. When you see somebody do something foolish or fail at something you might for a second feel embarrassed for them, or maybe you'll laugh at them, which is sometimes ok. But quickly you'll move on. You'll forget all about whatever stupid little thing they just did that invoked some sort of reaction in you. And so will everybody else who reacted similarly.

    If you're the subject of a situation of that nature, try to remember that really nobody cares.

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    1. That helps! As I get into slowly more ridiculous situations, I'll keep that in mind.

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  18. I had to laugh at Fredulous' first sentence. So true. We see tend to see ourselves more in the center light than others. Our successes and failures often get little to no notice.
    The only way I know how to deal with the fear of failure is to suck in the gut and hit things head on. It's not easy, but that's the only solution I've found.

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    1. Yeah that's my solution to things too. You get me ;)

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  19. Fredulous Yo is spot on. I used to fear failure. I was so very shy in school, I think I missed out on a lot of good opportunities because of it. The older I get, the less I care. I went to a conference this weekend. I didn't know anyone and when I tried to make small talk with the other ladies and got rejected, I was like *f* you! I sat by myself with my head held high, which attracted a very major public relations player to single me out and we got on really well. Which will now open a lot of PR opportunities for me locally. In the past I probably would have left from feeling so rejected, but I am way past letting others make me feel intimidated or less of a person.

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    1. That's an inspiring story. Such a small difference in your attitude led to such a big result. I hope I can achieve things like that this year.

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  20. I think everybody has a fear of failure. The difference is how much you let it control your life. Kudos to you for recognizing this and making a plan to fix it!! My fiance has this fear. He had an opportunity to get a very good job, but he had to take a math and English test to get considered. English is his second language, so he didn't take the test out of fear of failing. To me it was silly because all we speak is in English!! I guess my point is, don't miss out on opportunities because of it.

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    1. I shudder to think of all the jobs I haven't applied to because I didn't think I was qualified.

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  21. Just in case you get bored... Battle the Bands posted Feb. 1st. on my other blog. You don't have to join the bloghop, in order to vote... And, you get to on every blog that plays tunes... I think there are 10 blogs playing... so that's 10 votes you can use...
    Okay - so much for this thrilling commercial!

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    1. Maybe I should put it on that blog list on the right. Otherwise I keep missing it :P

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  22. One of the biggest fails I had happened this year. I printed out grades with the student's names on them. I guess to some people it was no big deal, but I thought it was a big deal. I think of grades like paychecks - confidential. My face felt red hot. I apologized. Then 2 other teachers told me that they have done that once or twice a yr. every yr. It's the first time I did it in 12 yrs. Not a good first impression with the first yr. students though.

    In regards to the gun noise question on my site: I knew it was a recording. It's a 6 yr. old question. I should email to ask because I'm sure he'd love to hear from them.

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    1. Ooh, that's awkward ;) I hope it made you feel better knowing how often the other teachers do it.

      Nailed it!

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  23. Well, the improv night didn't go so well because something happened you didn't anticipate that threw you off. Think how much better it will go next time, now that you are mentally prepared for the unexpected. Sometimes fear is a good thing. I'm afraid to get in a boxing ring, but that has probably helped keep me from getting killed. Though that is a bad example because I am pretty much afraid of everything. However, maybe the problem wasn't fear, but losing your focus. When you saw the 2 girls, your mindset switched from focusing on the task at hand to worrying about them. Could it be that losing your concentration was the problem and not fear?

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    1. I see where you're coming from, but it's definitely fear. No matter what I do, I always worry about saying the right thing at any given time.

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  24. Fear of failure, yes, I think we all have that problem at one time or another. As brave as you are in other areas of your life (jumping out of a plane,for example!!), I'm sure you will be able to figure out how to use that bravery you already have and apply it where you need it to conquer your fear of failure. I like your idea of facing it head on. Yes, just go for it! :)

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    1. I've worked out there are three specific areas that affect me the most. These are the ones I'll put the most effort into.

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  25. Fear of failure sucks! But when we let that fear take over our lives we miss out on a lot. I think the only thing we can do to get over our fear of failure is to just tackle it head-on, like you said. If we put ourselves in situations where we may fear failing and then do everything we possibly can not to fail, the fear soon vanishes.

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    1. Actually, what I'm thinking is that sometimes it'll help if I have no intention of succeeding in the first place. That way I'll just learn that it's not such a bad thing.

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  26. I don't think you've got a fear of failure. I remember another post of yours about an improv session in which you did really well. Getting thrown off your stride by suddenly seeing two people you feel awkward about isn't a fear of failure. It's more like getting distracted, which I'm sure you'll learn to avoid.

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    1. There was absolutely nobody at the first one apart from the six or so people who were performing. So basically there was no one to look stupid in front of that time.

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  27. I give you a ton of credit, I would never be able to speak infront of a large group of people. Even thinking about a large audience makes me a little dizzy and anxious.

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    1. For some reason, public speaking has never been a huge problem for me. Like Pickelope says above, it seems to be the much more intimate situations where I get self-conscious.

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  28. Love this idea!! And I'm so glad you've found your new theme for the year :)

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