Fear of Failure – An Existential Crisis

Have you ever wondered why there are so many unfulfilled dreams in the world? Why do some people chase their dreams and others not?

fear of failure
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I have been wanting to write a book for a decade now. I had no idea what it was going to be about, but I knew I was going to do it… And then a year passed, and then 2 and soon a decade had gone by, and I hadn’t even started…

Have you ever wondered why there are so many unfulfilled dreams in the world? Is it because we are afraid of what will happen if they actually come true? We dream… it is the child in us who has stars in his eyes… and suddenly we grow up and realism in its worst form takes over. ‘What if’ becomes our driving force? We become experts at giving ourselves reason as to why the dreams cannot be achieved, the fear of failure a constant companion in our minds.

Why do some people chase their dreams and others not? Whether it is the Wright brothers and their dream of flying even though they were bicycle mechanics, or Gandhi’s dream of independence for India, or Mandela’s dream of the end of apartheid, or King’s dream of progressive civil rights, or Wilma Rudolph who won 3 Olympic Gold medals inspite of being born with paralysis, Victor Frankl – the psychologist surviving Auschwitz because he had a goal, Steven Spielberg, Lincoln… the stories are endless.

My sardonically lazy perception of my dreams is bolted out of its stupor by these stories of courage. Every time one of these stories does the e-mail round robin, you will see a sudden surge of energy, coupled with the realization of dreams in cold storage.

The million dollar question really is that why do we respond differently?

Psychology textbooks in their ever-knowledgeable way, quote David McClleland’s – N ach or Need for achievement as being one of the major factors relating to fear of failure. People with a low need for achievement (whether due to nature or nurture) usually suffer from a fear of failure. They set targets that are either too high or too low.. inevitably setting themselves to either play safe or setting themselves up for failure. Ok, that’s the theory. But, am not sure I can identify with that much. I look around me and see successful professionals, doing extremely well at work, on the fast-track to CEO-dom or whatever else it is that they seek…but still having unfulfilled existential dreams.

Yes, following your dreams is about risk taking ability, individual gumption, competence…. But it is also about a whole lot more…

It is about having a worthwhile dream…

When you are working, there are daily challenges, these dream issues are the ones that get pushed to be thought about later. How many times have you heard the phrase – ‘I’ve got to do some thinking’? You know, I have been on a sabbatical for more than 7 months now… and you can see the day go by in much more detail than when you are working and you become all the more aware that you are just floating along in a life that you didn’t really dream about. Tell me, how many of us really dream that we will working at a job for 14-16 hours, come home and maybe exchange a few pleasantries with loved ones, watch tv and go to sleep. Our dreams were made of bigger stuff…

I was being educated just fine, till school and college ruined it!
Its funny you know, I don’t remember a single assignment, term paper, essay, project or even class discussion, in my 17 years of education, that asked me about my dreams or who I wanted to be.

I have been a Human Resource Professional for almost 10 years and I am tired of the interview questions about ‘where do you want to be 5 years from now’. In so many discussions with so many professionals I have yet to see answers other than a particular position or role. It has nothing to do with the person answering, it has to do with the question! Its easy to lose count of the number of times one hears the words ‘I want to do something else, I just don’t know what’ over the coffee vending machine or the cafeteria or in the smoke corner or the office lawns.

Should we not as HR professionals understand how the job fits into a person’s overall dream for himself? Should we not try to align these as much as possible? Should we not have services available for a person to figure out what he or she wants to really do in life? What is our responsibility to our employees? Are we really all that far away from Taylor?…

Is it a wonder then, that so many of us are struggling to identify that one consuming dream which will make our lives worthwhile. It is said that the greatest fear we have, is to die in insignificance, to die having left nothing behind…

A case:
There was this one particular manager who did something extraordinary with his team. His team was facing abnormally high attrition, making normal software attrition look almost too good to be true. He decided to try a different approach. He started doing ‘passion at the workplace’ sessions for his team and helped them see what it is that they wanted from life and how the choices they had made were fitting in. As more and more people got involved and understood the approach, a transformation… a miracle was taking place right before our eyes. Needless to say attrition reduced.

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