I was 27 when I was confronted with the realization that I’d been suffering from a fear of failure for a very, very long time.
And as I sat with the psychologist undergoing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) our conversations highlighted that I’d been dealing with a fear of failure since I was 12 years old.
And it was impacting my life.
Wanting to be the Best
From age 5 to 12 I’d been one of the best students in my school in both academics and sport.
By the time I left junior school I’d been captain of the football and cricket team and one of the school’s top two chess players.
I was one of the top students academically in my year. I’d won the school badminton tournament and the school essay competition.
And even though I had an intense fear of being on stage in front of people, I still played the lead role in numerous school plays just to try and win a trophy for best actor.
I was obsessed with being the best, to be better than everyone else and nothing would stop me from attempting to achieve that aim.
And having this attitude had seen me excel at pretty much everything I did, which led to me getting accepted in to one of the best academic school’s in the UK.
And then it all changed.
The Fear of Failure
Being surrounded by hundreds of other high achieving students changed everything for me because it was now (in my mind) going to be much harder to ‘be the best’.
To be better than everyone else. The competition (which is how I saw my peers at the time) was much stronger.
And rather than spurring me on to take myself to the next level, it had the opposite affect.
The Ego Gets Threatened
I can remember very clearly that moment in the playground when I had the realization that I might not be able to be the best any more.
And as soon as that thought entered my mind, subconsciously my ego decided to protect itself.
The fear of failure had now infiltrated my mind and my ego didn’t want to be threatened. It didn’t want to be seen as a failure.
And what happened was that over the next year or so I went through a huge transition from someone who pushed himself, to someone who started living their life with the hand brake on.
Because my ego didn’t want to see me push myself to be the best I could be, in case it had to find out that the best I could be would no longer be better than everyone else any more.
So I rebelled against myself internally.
And what I came to realize that day in the psychologist’s office was that I’d been holding myself back for 15 years. That my ego had been protecting me.
Because if I didn’t push myself to see what I was truly capable of achieving, it meant I never got to fail at anything.
That I could always fall back on excuses.
‘If I’d worked harder I could have done that.’
‘I didn’t really try, so that’s why I didn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve’.
It was my get out of jail free card that allowed my ego to preserve itself.
Playing All In
So as a result I never went all in on my life. Never put everything into whatever I was doing because if I never tried, then I would never fail.
A win for my ego.
But a loss for me.
So I’d love to sit here and say that finding that out about myself during my CBT session was a turning point for me.
But it wasn’t.
All New to Me
Because at the time I was just coming off the back of a mental breakdown filled with panic attacks, anxiety and depression.
And these mental health issues were all new to me. I didn’t have a clue about anxiety, depression and panic attacks. It wasn’t a topic I’d ever talked to anyone about.
In fact it was only a year or two later that I realized that what I’d been experiencing were panic attacks.
Mental Health Issues
I’d never really talked about my feelings at that point in my life. In fact I remember feeling like I couldn’t speak to my girlfriend (now wife) about any of this at the time.
I felt embarrassed and insecure.
I didn’t really understand what was happening to me, so talking about these really challenging experiences was alien to me.
Plus my ego didn’t want me to look weak in front of my girlfriend because talking about my mental health struggles would make me feel less of a man.
So I kept a lot of it to myself.
Unsure of What to do Next
That whole period of my life is an experience that feels like a bit of blur.
Starting to deal with mental health issues and mindset for the first time was quite frankly overwhelming and I was struggling to make sense of it all.
So while intellectually I could understand what I was being told in my CBT sessions about my fear of failure.
I didn’t really know what to do with that information and it took some time for me to get my head around it. For it all to sink in so I could move forward with my life in a more positive direction.
And as I sit here now writing this over 10 years later, that fear of failure is still there, still trying to pull me back from seeing what I’m capable of doing.
But for 10 years I’ve been chipping away at it. Pushing myself a little bit more each year.
And there have been moments when I’ve pushed myself at both work and in my personal life by doing uncomfortable and challenging things.
But at some point I had to be prepared to go all in on my life. To become the best I can be.
And most importantly of all to be prepared to fall short of what I believe I can achieve.
To be prepared to fall short in my aspirations.
To let go of my fear of failure and be prepared to fail.
Be the Best You Can Be
And as I make those changes to see if I can fulfil my potential, it’s not about being better than anyone else any more.
It’s about being the best I can be. To be the best version of me.
And the only person I’m competing with is myself.
Because the lesson I’ve learnt from doing the inner work is that I don’t need to be better than anyone else or to compete with anyone else.
I don’t need or want to be ‘the best’ and better than the rest.
There will always be someone better than me at whatever I do. Whether it’s now or at some point in the future.
All I can ask of myself is to see what I’m capable of and if I’m brutally honest with myself, I’ll know when I haven’t done that.
I don’t need external measures to prove anything to me. I don’t need to measure myself against anyone else or any metric.
So I just work on being the best version of me because I can’t do better than that. And neither can you.
Not Being the Best You
I spent a long time not being the best I can be.
And when I just coasted or put in a half-arsed attempt to push myself, I always ended up being unhappy or in a bad place.
And the current conclusion I’ve come to in my 38 years on the planet is that overcoming obstacles and struggles, pushing myself to grow.
To be challenged and push through discomfort is where the beauty of life resides.
It’s in the process of becoming the best version of you.
When I sat in one of my Yoga Teacher Trainings a few years ago a thought dropped in to my head.
Become the best version of you.
And I immediately felt that I’d found my purpose in life.
Just be the best you can be, I said to myself.
To keep learning. To keep growing.
It might seem simple and you might be thinking what a bullshit concept, what the fuck does that mean.
But life doesn’t have to be that complicated. And when you live your life by using concepts, ideas and philosophies, you can be more fluid with your decisions.
And the beauty for me in this simple concept, is that there’s no specifics. I can apply it to everything and anything.
I did a job in 2019 where I went all in, doing everything I could to make the best TV show possible.
It wasn’t my dream job. In fact deep down it wasn’t a job I would have sought out at all, but when I got it I gave 100% of me to the job.
I was the best TV Producer I could be and I’ve never been so satisfied with a job in my life.
I didn’t care if the show rated well or what other people thought of what I’d created.
I was satisfied because I knew I had done the best I could.
And the satisfaction was immense.
Now imagine what would happen if I found a job which I felt more connected to.
Now imagine if you applied that simple concept to everything in your life.
How amazing would life be?
Letting Go of the Ego
And now I’m in the process of seeing if I can push passed that fear of failure as I step into the dream life I’m creating.
The life I’ve held myself back from because my ego didn’t want to be threatened.
But if I show up each day being the best I can be.
Then I don’t need to worry about failing because there is no failure.