Hooray for failure


We often feel ashamed when things go wrong in our lives, but should we? Quite the opposite, experts say. Instead of feeling bad, we should dare to look failure in the eye. 

If you have a fear of failure, it’s hard to ignore, Arjan van Dam, Dutch psychologist and author of the book De kunst van het falen (‘The art of failure’) readily admits. But you can still do something about it. “First, try to become aware of how it works, this is very important,” he says. “Ask yourself: ‘Why does the idea of failure scare me so much? Is it because I’m scared I’ll look like a fool? Am I scared people won’t like me?’
And then ask yourself if that’s really what would happen. And is it helpful to think that way? Is it realistic to demand no failures, ever? No it’s not realistic at all. Next you can look at which thoughts are helpful, such as: ‘I can make mistakes and it’s alright because I learn from that.’ And when you feel that fear again, the fear of failure, remind yourself: It’s about learning and growing; it’s not about having to be good at something or about avoiding failure at all cost.”

According to Van Dam, people who are afraid of failure miss out on a lot, because they avoid the very challenges that make life so interesting. “It’s not that you need to take on a huge challenge if that’s not your thing, but anyone can take on a little challenge, something that suits you personally,” he says. “Also, when you are a fearful type, and not so keen to take a big leap over a watery ditch, you’ll find you become braver—you will dare to make bigger leaps—if you focus on the learning process and not on the success.”

  • The complete article can be found in Issue 21.

Text Renate van der Zee Photography Shutterstock