Yesterday I attended an interview for a teacher residency program. One of the topics discussed was creating and upholding high expectations for students, while simultaneously providing the support to meet those expectations. It got me thinking about the role of expectations in my own life, and the high standards to which I have always been held.
Growing up, failure was not acceptable. As an adult, I’m aware of the detrimental nature of my phobic reaction to potential mistakes and failures. I spend a significant amount of mental energy facing these fears, but still find myself controlled by them. There is a job I want to apply for, but my fears of failing if I get hired keep me from applying.
When I was in college, the most stressful (and hardest) part was me stressing myself out about grades. In spite of earning a 3.87 GPA, I was in a panic about grades almost every day of my four years in college. A part of me knew I could do the work, but I held myself to the highest standards (100%), but always felt I was performing at about a 50% level.
High standards are good, but when paired with low self-esteem, it can lead to a vicious cycle of self-defeat. Fear of failure can be a very positive thing, pushing you to do your best instead of just “getting by.” However, it can also be discouraging if too powerful. When paired with low self-esteem, fear of failure can lead to avoiding challenges. It transforms into a conviction of failure and giving up before beginning.
Returning to the job application I mentioned earlier, I fear failure and being fired from a job I view as my “dream job” before I’ve even applied. It isn’t the application process, or even fear of not getting hired, keeping me from applying. It is anxiety over potential failure coupled with a conviction (based on years of mental abuse) that I will fail. Furthermore, the increased desire for the position and a positive outcome increases the anxiety I associate with the application.
The most frustrating aspect of this is my feelings of being able to actually get the job. I do believe I am a good candidate for the job, and that I stand a good chance of success if I apply for it. Unfortunately, the longer I linger in indecision the less likely I am to get the job. In college, I experienced the same indecision and fear of failure, but was forced by due dates to complete all of my assignments. Every paper I turned in was expected to be a failing grade; somehow they never were. Even with each success, my anxiety only increased because I was more afraid of failing the next time.
Am I the only one who struggles with crippling anxiety surrounding the issue of potential failure? I doubt it. Am I a good person to get advice from on it? Absolutely not. I just want others to know they are not alone.