Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

How To Face Your Fear Of Failure


I could not have said it better myself.

(Photo by Madhi Bafandi, Unsplash)

In the words of a courageous bloggEE:

“…Fear of failure – yes, I’ve had that too, and still have. I was a perfectionist all the way to my fingertips and toes (and still am). I almost drowned in the impostor syndrome, falling into the bottomless pit of depression, not wanting to live anymore. You see, I feel I have failed so many times (I failed being perfect, I failed finding lots of new friends in a foreign country, I failed finding a stable job and even getting a boring day-job, I failed twice being self-employed, I failed my mother-in-law as I and my husband chose to be childfree, I failed having my books published, and so on – the list is long!), so it isn’t all that scary anymore. I know I will ‘fail’, but now I’d rather fail than not try…I don’t take myself so seriously anymore, so it’s much easier to DO new things and enjoy them, things that I have chosen myself, creative things that nourish me… And today, I accept (and love) my difference …And hey, if I express my quirkyness, other RFM people will probably find me! Today, I understand that learning new things all the time is essential to me in my life – if I don’t keep learning, I will once more fall into the pit of despair, and that is a place I don’t want to go back to. So yes, I prefer doing and trying instead of being afraid of failure. And finally, what is failure? I’m not letting anybody decide that for me anymore. If I learn, I succeed. And that’s it!…”

So. What if we all made lists of our so-called failures until we were no longer scared of them? We look them straight in the eyes and see how small and insignificant most of them are or, if, in fact, they are actually even failures. And for the big ones, perhaps, after we get some distance, we can see what we learned. You know the saying, right? You learn more from your failures than your successes. Well, it is true! Then, you might also examine what you are calling failures to see if they are losses but not failures.

And so, let’s hold a competition to see whose list is longest and we will give that person the prize for persistence, fortitude, ingenuity, creativity, and courage. OK?

By the way, you may or may not realize that your fear of failure is so intense because of the early pressure in your family to be super smart, which felt to you like the reason why you were loved. Must be smart. Must not make mistakes. Must win at all costs. Or you will lose the love, the attention, the recognition. Your identity.

But now you are older, you realize that learning is essential. So, you must risk failure to keep learning. You must make many mistakes along the way. You must fail miserably some of the time. Failures are necessary. Failures are your friends. Failures may be minor mistakes made extra large by your inner executioner who may, at one time, have been the voice of your mother/father. Failures take you on exciting adventures you may have otherwise missed. Failures are great material for TED talks and memoirs.

Of course, I am not saying you should go out of your way to fail. Although, that might be fascinating. You can have successes now and then, too.

But, hey, what is success, anyway?


To my darling bloggEEs: Let’s start on those lists. Let us know all about your failures! And thank you to the bloggEE who bravely went first.

For those of you who wanted more, do not despair. I wrote this article on perfectionism for published just last week. I describe healthy and unhealthy perfectionism and list many strategies for both. It might be a good one to share with your therapist.

And, my newly designed website/blog is in the works. Coming soon. It will have the same blog content. It will just be prettier.

Author: Paula Prober

I'm a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in counseling gifted adults and consulting with parents of gifted children. The label "gifted" is often controversial and confusing. I use the metaphor of the rainforest to describe this population. Like the rainforest, these individuals are quite complex, highly sensitive, intense, multi-layered, and misunderstood. They're also curious, idealistic, highly intelligent, creative, perfectionistic, and they love learning. I've been an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I've written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, and Advanced Development Journal. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016 by GHF Press and is available on Amazon or at your independent bookstore. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists, was released in June 2019.

40 thoughts on “How To Face Your Fear Of Failure

  1. I really don’t like cliches or “sayings” but this one has always been a motivator for me and your post reminded me of it. “The Turtle never moves forward until it sticks its head out.” I have always loved turtles.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. It’s just one viewpoint, but I have always thought the word “failure” is completely inappropriate to life. Period. We all live, we try, we do. Outcomes are numerous, varied and often mixed. Lemons make the very best lemonade. Just my 2 cents, but I think we should all give up “struggling” and go with an intelligent flow of life. There is NO such thing as failure. Period. It’s all in the way you decide to feel about things. Plan, work, etc but let it develop a flow. You can look at absolutely everything in life as a giant failure if you want to, or as an enormous, complex, beautiful success.
    Things that feel like failures today often set you down paths that turn out to be incredible years in the future.
    And no, you don’t fail if you don’t immediately give yourself a break and stop struggling. You just experiment with life and gradually make it all more harmonious, productive, contented etc.
    That’s my perspective. It’s a long journey, but am hoping by the time I’m 100 I’ll be pretty content with my efforts.

    The turtle analogy is perfect.
    Everybody stick their head out and try something. If it feels right, then stick it out further. Dip in a toe, or try another route.
    But however you go, give yourself a break, and stop and notice the beauty that is everywhere around us. Yes, even in those silly humans who fracked up this planet. Most of them didn’t do it on purpose, and it has inspired some incredible miracles to be accomplished.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for this perspective, Sue. Fascinating to think how to live with the sense that failure does not exist.


    • As you say, the word “failure” should not be part of our lives. But there are societal expectations of what success is: get a well-paid job, get married and have kids, buy a nice house in a nice neighbourhood, have two cars (or more), save for your pension, have intelligent children who go to university, become a warm-hearted grand-parent. That is what success looks like for most people, don’t you think? So in other people’s eyes (your family’s, for example), you might be regarded as a failure if you don’t achieve this. Non-RFMs simply don’t understand that someone might want to experiment with life – I think they just want to be secure and have a routine in life.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Others may regard you as a failure if you do not follow societal expectations. But you don’t have to. You can regard yourself as an innovator, a creator, a divergent thinker, a rebel, a leader…

        Liked by 2 people

        • Indeed, quite right so. That’s much easier to do when you’ve realised you’re a RFM and that you’re different and don’t need to follow. In my case, I did everything to try to fit in, to be ‘normal’ and liked/appreciated/loved by everybody. Of course, I failed – sorry, did not succeed (lol!) but I learnt so many things on the way. It’s only now that I, too, can experiment with life and learn from what others see as ‘failures’. I find that really invigorating!

          Liked by 1 person

      • “…that someone might want to experiment with life.” ❤️
        Thank you for the clarity of your expression, Marina. I find clear expression healing.

        In relation to the subject of the article, I realised another angle that I have about failure. It is the idea that HSPs (I am one) like to do a thing once and do it well or in other words they have a strategy of “getting the thing right the first time”. I believe I read that Elaine Aron said this.

        I think it’s based on the idea that we find this the best use of our energy and that our deep thinking allows it.
        I think then that if I try to achieve something and don’t get it right I do feel I have badly failed, that I didn’t have the wit (agile and tenacious thinking) to achieve it. I hold myself to expectations that are perhaps too high.
        It’s good to know that this is not the only way and that there is beauty in plodding through, uninitiated, learning from each attempt, really learning the landscape first hand as we go. It’s a deep kind of learning, not unlike physics experiments, where you learn from what you discover and see.

        Now to allow this thought to bed into my mind 😀 and to have fun with learning, nerd-like, as I had to do learning the French language, for example. I’m looking forward to reclaiming this approach.

        Liked by 3 people

        • That getting it right the first time is very much a RFM thing, too. So, practicing other ways to learn and finding activities that require different approaches can be challenging but important.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Sheep’s Wool, thank you for saying that “there is beauty in plodding through” and that your expectations might be too high, I do recognise myself in this. Happy to find other like-minded people here on Paula’s blog, it is comforting. Keep having fun learning and discovering!

          Liked by 1 person

          • You’re welcome, Marina. I got deep satisfaction from learning French slowly over time. It might have been easier because it was part of a classroom structure.
            I slowed down and learned honours maths bit by bit in the final year of high school and by the end of the year I had learned to really like maths and be proud of myself purely because I had worked so hard.
            Yesterday, I visited a ‘community garden’ with my cousin. It’s the end of year 1 of this new project, having been opened to encourage people to get involved in growing vegetables. I’m from a farming background myself. The potatoes harvested from the garden raised bed yesterday were very few in number and I noticed the soil was sandy with lots of stones. It wasn’t great for growing potatoes. I started to talk and think out loud about how the organisers could get better soil next year. A lady – a key member, it turned out – interrupted me to say she and her husband knew a lot about growing, implying they didn’t need me to tell them anything… I realised I had better stop talking as 1) they knew their stuff from years of experience, and 2) it was ‘the doing the thing’ that was most important.
            My point – although the crop and soil were poor they achieved lots for this first year of the new project. And they could always learn (from pure experience!) from what happened this year. It struck me it’s one of the truest best ways to learn.
            What looked poor to me was actually rich. It was the doing it that was the key here.
            (As for me, I failed to finish my PhD thesis satisfactorily and did not graduate. That’s my failure that feels like being hit over the head with something. It’s been 6 years since then. This post and all of your comments are helping me to thaw out this experience and digest it. Thanks sincerely to all of you for sharing your angles, experiences, grapplings and insights on failure. You are gems.)

            Liked by 2 people

      • And thanks Marina for the quote! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • “It’s all in the way you decide to feel about things. Plan, work, etc but let it develop a flow. You can look at absolutely everything in life as a giant failure if you want to, or as an enormous, complex, beautiful success.
      Things that feel like failures today often set you down paths that turn out to be incredible years in the future.
      And no, you don’t fail if you don’t immediately give yourself a break and stop struggling. You just experiment with life and gradually make it all more harmonious, productive, contented etc.”

      I couldn’t agree more! It’s not easy to do – but that doesn’t keep me from trying. There is quite literally opportunity in everything. These words come to mind: “Life is what you make of it. Always has been and always will be.” For some reason, that always makes me feel better about doing the best that I can with what I’ve got….

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This is good timing for me because I am feeling a lot of stress and certainly a significant part of it is the idea of failure. I am going to move. This is hard on so many levels, but on top of all the normal traumatic issues of moving, there is the other thing. I am terrible with physical objects, and time management for physical actions. I do not know how to organize things.

    Ideas, thoughts, concepts, intellectual analysis have always been super easy. But how to get my stuff together? How to make sure I have what I want ready for the movers, in a place they can get to. ARRRGGHH!

    Maybe not the kind of failure you were expecting? But, this is the one I am looking at right now. ARRRGGHH!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi hksounds,

      Just a practical tip from someone who has had to move many times in her life:
      Double or triple label your boxes! On the top of the box the movers can read where they need to put the box (in what room). The label(s) on the side are for you. When the boxes are stacked, you can’t read the label on top, so make sure that they put the labels on the side in front, so you can read the labels and know what’s inside the box.

      Another tip is measuring the new place. Make sure your furniture fits. If not, sell it either with the house or on some online site. The less you have to move, the better. And if it doesn’t fit, you have no use for it..

      Then, which was for me the best thing, try to move the things that are precious to you (for me my plants) yourself. That way you know thatctgey are safe.

      And keep a few separate boxes (labeled “keep separate!!!) in which you have your morning-, evening and night rituals in. Including your bedsheets and pillows. It’s a day straight out of hell, but this has helped me tremendously!

      If needed, write a cryptic description on your labels, so the movers have no idea what’s in the boxes, but you will!

      Make a list of who you need to inform about your move: city, insurance, gas- water and electricity, mortgage (if applicable), hospitals, doctors, etc..

      Also make a list of what you want/need to get done in the new place, no matter how big or small.

      Keep any receipts|invoices you pay for
      improvements you want to make, l this may come in handy von taxseason.

      Remember: you need to create chaos before you can start building up again in the new pace.

      Good luck!! You cán do this!!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you for the great suggestions. In my case, this is an international move. Almost no furniture, and the movers will do the packing themselves in their boxes. Unfortunately, all that helpful labeling will not be possible. I will have to take the ‘need right away stuff,” in some extra baggage with me on the plane.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Ah, I see, hksounds!
          What we did when we emigrated to another country (again) was putting everything in boxes (as much as possible) in the room you want it to go. For example, my stuff would go to “kids bedroom 2”. My sister being “kids bedroom 1”. Living in living room, dining in dining room, and so on. If the movers find stuff in that room and pack it, they can label it for that room. And you cán ask them to label it that way.
          It makes a complete chaos of everything, but you can remember the boxes when they arrive and help you unpack in the right room. They will probably pack everything in crates for shipment, and unload the crates at your new home.

          In the meantime, while waiting for your stuff, what helped us was staying in a hotel. That way you can get accustomed to the new environment while having a “safe place” where you have everything you need on a daily basis. If you are moving because of work, maybe your employer will help with the costs of that?
          (We ended up “living” in the hotels until the shipments arrived, and we could start to unpack. Before that, we’d go back and forth to clean the new place, so it would be ready for us)

          Maybe that will help?

          Good luck with the move!! Virtually sending you all the strength you need and big hugs for anytime you feel overwhelmed!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting. So is it failure or is it just something you are not good at?? I hope the tips from clignett are helpful. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Paula,

    In my work with gifted kids in educational settings, one of my primary goals is to have them fail. I even tell them about this goal depending on the mood of the room. This goal, whether stated or not, can make kids scared, uneasy, or even mad.

    However, there are many reasons why gifted young people need to learn how to adapt within “failure”. Most gifted students will eventually encounter an academic area where mastery is challenging or even unattainable. After years of breezing through school smarter than even the teachers, this can leave a student demoralized and lacking tools for how to navigate or overcome this unprecedented challenge. At this learning intersection where the mind and capabilities have the opportunity to master new knowledge and skill, problem solving, study habits and plain old grit can be introduced and encouraged as students find out they can do something even if it hard.

    I search for ways to challenge kid’s capabilities, raising the bar until we encounter challenge. One example of this is a third grade student of mine who took the GRE. I was just curious to see if there was anything he couldn’t do. There wasn’t🤷‍♀️.

    In one recent summer camp session, students were saying, “this makes my brain hurt!” This is exactly what I want to hear because it means their beautiful brains are flexing, exercising, and growing new synaptic networks. Just like after a good workout, kids in these new learning experiences can be exhilarated but fatigued, needing to cool down and rest. Conversely, this exciting new experience can lead to exhilaration as they launch into a world where their brain has the stimulation it craves so desperately. To me, a straining brain means learning is happening.

    For some students, this process can be excruciating, frustrating, and lead to questions about personal identity. It can be uncharted territory to not be the smartest person in the room. Imposter syndrome can hit hard, often deep inside and therefore invisible.

    If all this sounds like a recipe for gifted trauma, fear not. This all happens in a gentle and fun environment, where young learners can feel safe enough TO fail, and can relax and enjoy learning without having to produce a perfect product. Having a wise and trusted mentor to help shepherd them into the world where of mental challenge is more more useful to them than encountering this situation alone later on in life.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes, Sara!! This is why gifted kids need teachers who understand them and this!! It is how to raise them so they don’t end up with fear of failure. Thanks for this.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Did you manage to come up with a challenging task for your third grader? Sounds like he will need extra help in locating that key point where he feels unable to breeze through.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He finds challenge in other areas than academics, exploring sport, pencil drawing, and learning to navigate socially. He enjoys meta learning experiences such as hybrid civil engineering, earth science, geology, and civic planning. He would like to design cities that are energy self sufficient.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think it was the singer Lizzo who said when she fails, her reaction is, “Okay, great, I got that over with.” I think that’s a great mindset because it can help make risks feel less…risky?

    I agree with itssue42 that failures can help set us down useful avenues (or even life paths). David Epstein talks a lot about this in his book Range. I also think about what a lot of political pollsters have said: they prefer to know who *doesn’t* support their candidate rather than who’s on the fence; that way, they know where they don’t have to waste their time. Failures can be just as informative.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Failures.. plural. Yes! And feeling like a failure as well. The list is long, as this bloggEE said.
    Failure to get my mother and my sister to understand me, failure to have deep and long lasting friendships from childhood on (also due to being an expat kid, but still), failure to endure an finish university, failure to sleep without medication, failure to function without pain medication, failure to have a life long partner, failure to have kids (after 3 miscarriages), failure to be able to get to the core of my trauma’s in life (early childhood trauma as well as later in life), failure to have a family from my own, failure to maintain a “normal” working life (as I’m medically, physically, mentally and financially declared unfit for work), and all the failures in between.

    This last one had me really spinning. On the one hand I was so happy that the struggle was finally over, I had control back over my own life! But that nagging voice, the devilish voice in my right ear… “you’re no good, can’t even get yourself together and work like you used to!” What good to the world are you anyway?!”
    Background info: I was a company secretary at my last job, and I loved it! Everything came together, all the facets that I love to work in/with! Ok, it made for 80 hour work days, but I loved it, right? So, burned out?? Me?? Really and seriously?? Yep! Completely, utterly and to the bone. My mind was gone. Couldn’t remember how to send an email for the life of me.. Thankfully the union I’m still a member of helped me step by step.
    So after 2 lawsuits with my former employer, durin a burnout, which I won (ehhh… my super lawyer won!), while dealing with some or other sort of therapy (hence the multiple therapists who tried to “correct” my language/words) obligated by the state, (another failure to keep one therapist for longer than a year), it took me about 4 years with legal stuff ( panick attacks, hyperventilation, fainting because my blood pressure is low and when stressed it just drops to almost nothing – another failure from my body), then 4 years of intensive therapy (while changing therapists every time I didn’t feel comfortable or understood anymore), to finally sit out a one on one session every week for another 3 years with a therapist who at least tried to follow my mind. Who didn’t get annoyed with me because I couldn’t remember the last session.., But she helped me with an extended letter to the state’s benefit office , and so did my physiotherapist. Then I had to request for a re-examination of my situation. Stress, sleepless nights, losing weight (I need to gain weight or be stable with my weight) until the appointment was set. Corona and universe came together, and helped me through it, with my counselor from the union beside me. The interview was by phone! Still scary, but at least I could do it in the comfort of my own home. Result, the man told it straight after the interview “ma’am, it’s clear as day to me, even if it’s not really what you want, but you will be declared unfit!

    The positive of that result (after about 6 months mourning that loss and willing to change my mindset from “what I couldn’t do to what I still can do”, is that I could move away from where I lived, busy street, above 2 main supermarktets, always noise l, and to this new place. Where I’m still figuring out where to put my stuff, still reorganizing the unpacked boxes to the correct rooms, but it’s quiet. I don’t have to walk any steps anymore, everything is same level in the appartement..

    So, to circle back to what Sue wrote, it is about mindset. I’ve decided that If I can’t acces the roots of the earlier trauma’s, I’ll just let them be. My brain must be locking it for a good reason. It all will end with me anyway, as I’m the last in the family tree. It dies with me.

    And this is the short list 🙈🙈

    There’s only one thing I want to try: having a proper diagnosis on Asperger and HSP and highly intelligent (which I do not feel at the moment!) It may surprise me and help me understand myself more. Pushed it back to next year, with the moving it’s been too much to also go have sessions and examinations.

    To end this on a positive note: I’m done with failure! I’ve done my best, worked my ass off for about 40 something years, and am now entering a stage in my life where I want to enjoy it. Live life instead of survive.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I think we can often see only what we didn’t acheive, rather than what we did. When I was reading the subject’s “failures,” I was thinking “Wow! You lived in a different country! You wrote a book! You got married, and you made a thoughtful decision about having children that was right for you!” That sounded like a lot of successes to me.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. You did not fail your mother-in-law in choosing to not have children. That is a societal demand & realizing, accepting that you don’t want to have children takes courage. You supported what was best for you & that is never failure!

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Lovely post thank you for sharing. The listing of failures is a good idea (scary though 😂). I will have to give it a go! It reminds me of what the Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Love Pray) does when she has a new project she is afraid of, and invites her fear to speak up and list every fear about the project. She says there usually isn’t actually that much there once she opens it up, and then she says thank you for doing your job fear, now I’m going to get on with mine and carry on regardless 😁 . I included that in a blog post I’ve just written about fear – in case you’re interested to check out 😊

    Liked by 2 people

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