The Fear

This is a large category, with many sub-categories: Fear of Failure, Fear of Success, Fear of Incompetence, and Fear of the Outcome.

The first of these — fear of failure — may be the most common. We’ve probably all been faced with something that seems beyond our capabilities: preparing an event, writing a research paper, passing a test — so much so that the task itself takes on greater importance and increases the need for alibis: “I don’t know enough about that!”,“Why did I agree to do this?!”,“I’m going to screw this up!”

The upshot is that when we don’t have enough confidence in our abilities, we build up scenarios about what could happen if we were to inevitably fail — getting fired, getting kicked out of school, losing status.

Hand in hand with that fear (ironically) is the fear of success. If we complete a task successfully, we may be expected to reach that same level of success — and even greater ones  in the future—setting ourselves up for a Peter Principle downfall, the idea that being so good at something that we’re promoted to the point of our own incompetence, which is our third fear.

We’ve all had that feeling of being in a position for which we don’t feel qualified. (Personally, when I appeared on Jeopardy, even though I knew I was prepared to play the game, I had decades of expectations packed into 22 minutes of playing the TV show game on camera. I had to put up or shut up. Fortunately, I won, but that didn’t ease the feelings of insecurity, wondering if I was actually up to par.)

The last type of fear is the fear of the outcome; the fear that the results won’t live up to our expectations. We worry about how correct our analysis is and whether the recommended follow-up is the right one. Will that mole need treatment? Will signing up at that gym yield the results we want?

While some of these fears seem foolish, it can be hard to see past them and get perspective. The best way to handle them may be to externalize them. Talk with colleagues, friends, and loved ones. Ask for help. Put something down in writing and get feedback. Getting confirmation that we’re on the right track or seeing where we may have erred — while the process is ongoing — is invaluable. Even if the final product is flawed, it can ultimately be corrected. Even the Supreme Court corrects its mistakes.

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