How I’m Breaking the “Fear of Failure” Curse

My fear of failure and risk-averse nature has crippled my potential. As a mother, I'm trying my hardest to help my daughter avoid these same pitfalls.

Growing up, I was an A student. I remember reading and even doing mathematics early. I spent half of Mr. Grossley’s first grade day in Mrs. Carriere’s second grade classroom because first grade didn’t challenge me enough academically. I know you’re reading this like “ok girl, get to the point.” Well, hold on; I’m getting there. When I switched to public school, the school asked for permission to test me for the gifted and talented program. But after I received a B on my report card that quarter, and even though the school still wanted to test me, my mom decided I wasn’t ready. If I had to do a psychological trace on myself, I think it would lead me back to this point. A point that told me if I didn’t do something perfectly, then I wasn’t good enough. And, paralyzed by a fear of failure, I’ve been a perfectionist ever since.

Has it been beneficial for me? At times, yes. Scholarships to school. A really good eye for details. A desire to get things as close to right the first time as possible. Seeking nuance and choosing context over absolutism. Basically, it prepared me for life as a creative individual. A serial creative, actually. And it’s allowed me to choose a career, and stick with it. But more detrimentally, it hurt me a lot by paralyzing my potential. And I didn’t realize it until I noticed that my best friend was super successful simply because she wasn’t afraid to fail, and fail often. I relied on theory, she relied on a history of trial and error. Where I saw risk, she saw opportunity. Repeatedly. Even now. If I try something, and it’s not immediately successful, I tend to quit. I am what you might call RISK-AVERSE.

When I had Skylar, one thing I always told myself and others was that I never wanted her to be limited by the color of her skin, or even her gender. Initially, I wouldn’t even buy pink clothes for her because I didn’t want to condition her into believing that ONLY girls should wear pink. My progressive ideals also influenced my decision to comfortable shop for clothes for her in the boys section. I even offer a guide on how to do it. And as Skylar grew, I also didn’t want her to be limited by her own fears or those of others.

This is Certified Unfamiliar Territory, But She’ll Be Okay

When Skylar was about 13 months old, my mom moved in with us. You know what happens at 13 months. Babies are walking and maybe even climbing. They’re experiencing independence and they’re falling … ALOT. For me, these were growing pains. Skylar was learning what was safe and what wasn’t … on her own. Of course, I did what I could to protect her from the most dangerous things, like fencing off the brick fireplace, lowering her crib, holding her hand as she was learning to balance herself, putting baby gates at the steps, etc. But for the most part, I let her explore. I let her play in her room alone; I made sure her toys were at eye level so she could play with them when she wanted; I let her eat dirt; I let her pull pots out of cabinets to play with; I let her climb onto and off of things if they were within reach. Lot of things that made my mom very anxious — sometimes to the point that she had to leave the room.

In doing so, I found myself having to tell my mom sometimes, “She’ll be okay,” “She’s fine,” and “She’ll get back up.” This is certified unfamiliar territory. She always expects the absolute worst to happen. And maybe for good reason. For example, a kid she babysat once hit his head on the corner of a brick fireplace in our apt. A cousin fell down the steps while visiting relatives and ended up in a coma for three days. My mom operated with the knowledge that not even the smallest amount of danger was okay during play. Realizing that set off a lightbulb for me — one that made me reclaim Skylar’s adventurous spirit, her ability to choose risk and to conquer fear before it conquered her. And as Skylar grew, and learned what certain body parts did to protect her, and what learned words like “hot” meant, and realized that if her feet don’t touch the bottom, it’s probably too high, she became more confident in her independence, confident in herself.

Nowadays, you can catch her skydiving from anything she can climb onto by herself, including her bed in her room, the sofa in the family room and the recliner in the corner. She stomps like a giant. She runs with the agility of a professional athlete. And she acts like the she’s deaf to the word “no,” except when she’s saying it of course. My mom affectionately calls her “active” and “a tomboy,” but she’s growing into the exact person I want her to be. The kind who chooses the adventure and the thrill, and knows if you fall, you just get back up and try again … and sooner rather than later.

How I'm Breaking the Fear of Failure Curse