afraid to fall so i won’t get up

I am afraid of failure. 

Part of this comes from being raised by two people who continually sabotaged themselves.

Part of this comes from a religion that demanded we “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” and then viewed every sign of humanness as depravity and sin.  God was allowed to remain perfect since us humans took the blame for everything that went wrong. 

Because I am so afraid to fail (which means be less than perfect) I am afraid to try.

My artwork is stale and rigid.  While I know my best pieces come while I’m just having fun, like doing caricatures in church or math class, I feel like I must get my proportions mathematically exact or I lose.  I am afraid to play on paper because the paper is wasted if I don’t produce a masterpiece.  So I have good doodles and few finished paintings.

I had this idea that other people were awesome, but I was a wretched worm.  If only I could run the fastest, or be the best, then other kids would want me to play with them!  (Note: it does not work this way in real life.) 

One time in elementary school we were running races.  When I saw that I was going to come in 4th instead of 1st, I stopped running and finished dead last.  For some reason, I thought this would be less humiliating.  After that I stuck to long distance running where I could win by sheer stubbornness instead of talent.  I still wasn’t picked first for teams.  Or even 10th.

My biggest struggle has been finding “god’s will”.  That mythical elusive path that would ensure the salvation of myself and the entire world, were I to be successful at it. 

My focus of finding god’s will rested in my career path.  My calling.  And I was terrified of making the wrong choice or failing in the right one.  Paralyzed, actually.

I was afraid of ending up in a job that paid less than minimum wage (like my parents) and yet I didn’t want to make too much money out of loyalty to them as well. 

I asked for advice from the elders and my parents.  The advice I got from them was horrible. 

“Be a hairstylist.”  (I have no talent or interest in hair.)

“Don’t forget to get married and have kids while you are young.”  Well this isn’t necessarily bad.  But not helpful to a single girl trying to decide what to study.

I should have listened to the advice of the older women in my church.  “Don’t make any choices that will trap you.” 

“Finish school.” 

I am still afraid of failure.

Part of me was relieved when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant.  At least I knew what to do for the next few years without having to make any decisions, try anything or … fail!  (Little did I know about mommy-guilt.)

Part of me wants to hide behind raising kids.  I have a part-time job that I enjoy and interests I could pursue.  I love painting portraits.  I enjoy writing.  I love public speaking.  It would be so easy to stay at home and forget the hassle of child care and scheduling.

I wouldn’t risk failing, but to me that would be giving up. 

I have it in my head to be a professor some day.  Researching, learning, and giving lectures sounds ideal!   I also want to have practical skills that would let me impact people on a personal level.  (No, nursing is not appealing.)

But I am terrified.  What if I spend so much money on trying to find a career and then fail?  What if I make the wrong choice and don’t like it?  What if I can’t be a decent mother and wife and go back to school?   What if I can’t even make it into a program?

At least I don’t have ‘god’s will’ to worry me.  But I still worry. :p

10 thoughts on “afraid to fall so i won’t get up

  1. The advice sounds like that your Auntie E. would have given you. She always told #1 son to learn to cook and clean because some day he might get married. And told the girls to finish school and get good jobs because someday they might get married.
    Perfectionists (most often oldest children) are procrastinators because they are afraid it won’t be perfect so they won’t try. Can’t blame it all on religion or parents, it is also birth order dysfunction, too. Ask me.
    Sometimes you have to ask yourself what is the WORST thing that can happen if I try and fail at…. Most of the time it is not very terrible at all, so Just Do It! To double your successes, double your failures. Learn to say “I screwed that up royally”. Learn to say “I am sorry”. I have mastered those two right well over the years and still am scared to start things.

    • prairienymph says:

      It was Evelyn LaFayette’s advice.

      Worst thing? That I’ll spend too much money on something that I can’t use. I’ll be in debt beyond what I can pay in my lifetime. I’ll be working for less than minimum wage. I’ll develop bipolar disorder. Social Security will take away my kids. My husband will leave – or worse, he’d stay.
      That is my biggest fear: to lose my mind and subsequently everything else.

      Maybe I’m taking things too far? I should go eat some chocolate.

  2. St.ain't says:

    Last year I read a study on cognitive function. They found that you learn more when you fail first and try again. I’m thinking of hanging that info above my desk, maybe in a mixed media collage. Something I’ve been itching to try but afraid of failing at.
    Of course, I get down on myself and say if that study is true, I must be freakin’ brilliant by now.

  3. Lorena says:

    Excellent post! At the risk of sounding that I am minimizing your issue, I will say that many people feel the way you do. You’ve described me to a T. Could it be that we’re both ex-Christians or something?

    Fear not, by the time you’re my age, 47, you will finally learn that being perfect has nothing to do with the game of life, that most people who “make it” are quite imperfect.

    I sure hope you learn faster than me, though. Or that your learning process doesn’t turn out as painful as mine. But, what can I say? Growing hurts, and it sucks, too.

    • prairienymph says:

      I think being an oldest is a big part of fear of failure, but our flavour of Christianity sure didn’t help, eh?
      I think I put extra pressure on myself because I feel like I have to prove something not only for myself, but for my family. As if my ‘success’ or ‘failure’ reflects on other people as well and I can’t let them down.

  4. Quester says:

    I spent three years pursuing an Education degree before realizing it was not for me. I ended up getting a B.A. in English because I had most of the requirements for it and could graduate in one more year. I got a job in a few different libraries to save up money while trying to get accepted into a seminary. After a few years, I finally got into a program, then spent the money I had saved up on a seminary education. After convocating from seminary, I worked as a pastor until I no longer had any confidence I knew anything about god, including whether there was one. Now I work in a library as a reference assistant, using my experience working in libraries and my experience researching for essays and assignments through seven years of post-secondary education.

    I still sometimes feel like an absolute failure for not following my original plans, but I never feel that the time, money and education were wasted. I’m using what I gained, even if in ways I’d never expected nor intended.

    • prairienymph says:

      That’s a neat story. It sounds like you’ve found your fit. Have you ever considered getting your Masters in Library Science?

      • Quester says:

        I’ve found my fit– so far. Maybe next year my department will be downsized, and I’ll have to start yet another career path. Maybe I’ll go for my Master’s of Library Science (pros: likely more hours, more money; cons: less of the customer interactions I enjoy, more of the paperwork I’d prefer to avoid). Maybe I’ll get promoted or transferred to a different department. Maybe God will start speaking to me clearly and explain everything in a way that calls me back to active ministry.

        My knowledge of the future has been proven quite fallible. All I can do is look at my skills, my passions, how I may be able to use these to make the world a slightly better place, and what training or tools might make it easier for me to do so.

        Best of luck, PN. People rarely have the ability to stay in one career their entire working lives any more, so we get to spend so much more time thinking about what we are going to be when we grow up. *grin*

    • Life isn’t a straight line for most of us. We try something, back up and try something else. There are no real failures as long as we keep learning something (and no one gets killed). In a sense it is called muddling through.

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