Announcement: Wish you could change the past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!

Pushing Yourself to Try When You’re Afraid of Failing

You Only Fail When You Stop Trying

“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.” ~Beverly Sills

Before I became a teenager, I developed a characteristic and a disease that went hand-in-hand: I was a perfectionist, and I had an eating disorder.

While my perfectionism was helpful in succeeding at things such as school and sports, the same perfectionism helped to fuel a dangerous relationship with my own body.

Fortunately, I received treatment in high school, and I learned to handle my issues related to anorexia and bulimia in healthy ways. This process was neither easy nor simple, but I felt cared for in the arms of recovery. It wasn’t until years later, when I was out of college, that the safety of recovery felt far away.

Felt far away, I should emphasize. It was tantalizingly within reach, but I was reluctant to seek its grasp. This reluctance was based on my fear—not my fear of asking for help (I had done that before, after all), but my fear of failing at recovery.

Since I relapsed into an eating disorder in my twenties, going back into treatment felt daunting—I let myself go too long in sickness and poor health, physically and emotionally, because of my trepidation.

Certainly, one fear was based on living without a disease I had grown to depend upon, but another fear was my unwillingness to ‘fail’ at treatment—if I couldn’t be perfect at it, why bother?

In the end, this fear kept me from receiving the help I desperately needed. I did not want to disappoint others (or myself) by entering recovery and failing. My disease affected not only me, but also my family and friends. Could I really subject them to the hope of my recovery, only to disappoint them?

Eventually, I reached the point where I knew I was either going to die by this disease or live another way. As scary as recovery felt, I knew I had to try at life. And that meant trying again at treatment, even if it took several tries.

Entering recovery—or rather, my long putting-off of entering recovery—was not an easy or perfect process.

Like a normally calm person losing their temper, I finally had to abandon my pride (I don’t need help! I’m not that bad! Recovering means settling!), and accept the inevitable: I did need help, the disease was that bad, and recovering meant much needed (and deserved) health.

Through the process I learned that I deserve a life of recovery, no matter how hard it can be, and I also learned how to find the success in moving past the fear of disappointment and into a mindset that strives to try.

The end result is not guaranteed, and you may even fail, but we can find joy and resolve in the effort.

Are there areas in your life you have felt the fear of disappointment? Perhaps a new job opportunity, or going back to school? Sometimes pursuing relationships or new passions and hobbies can create this anxiety.

The process can seem overwhelming, and the fear of failure can loom large. But what if the fear of disappointment did not dictate what we tried to do and who we tried to be? How can we feel confident in trying?

1. Think it through, but don’t over think.

Any new undertaking involves discernment and time to think and weigh the options. But sometimes when we overthink, we may talk ourselves out of opportunity due to fear instead of into a worthwhile adventure.

This doesn’t mean you should take a leap and then tune out your thoughts and feelings. There is something to be said about your instinct and what your gut is trying to tell you.

When I finally reached out to a therapist that was recommended to me, I did not have a strong connection with her. But my time with her reinforced that healing was possible, and she led me to another therapist who was a better fit and has been instrumental in my recovery.

2. Find value in the process.

Some projects in life have definite finish lines, but other times we are called to continue growing. In both cases, the process itself is essential to the work being done. Once I settled into therapy, I was reminded that mental health does not operate on linear time—celebrating simple or little success helped me see the bigger picture.

For those embarking on a new adventure or trying to undertake a new project, it isn’t too uncommon to worry oneself so far into the future that we struggle with the realities of the present. I know I began to fear how I would handle recovery in future situations, like while on vacation or out to eat with friends. But in each day of the process, I discovered more of my own strength that allowed me to continue on, even in the face of unknowable circumstances.

Focus on each step of the journey and the outcome will take care of itself.

3. Talk away the fears.

Fear and disappointment can ring loudly inside your mind. Letting them out and bringing them to light can help diminish their power. When I sat the people in my life down and explained to them that I was seeking therapy once again, I saw the concern and love in their eyes, and that erased my fear of their disappointment.

Having the right people in your life who can listen to your fears is a great gift. Allow yourself the freedom to recognize these people and the value they bring. If you struggle to know who to reach out to, consider the power of your word in journaling, poetry, or song writing (or even wordless body movements—dancing, painting, and sculpting, and so on!)

You may not be able to completely let go of your fears, but expressing them may help you find the courage to act in spite of them.

4. Find value in yourself, despite the imperfections.

Since recovery—ten years in—I certainly have failed, by some standards for sure. I have not always made the best decisions. But what has made me successful is the resolve to absolutely never settle into how I used to think.

My recovery was successful the moment I decided to try. Being patient with the process and gentle with myself even when I experienced setbacks allowed this success to continue.

Give yourself credit for making an effort and you’ll find yourself motivated to continue.

Ultimately, we may not be perfect, but we will not be doomed so long as we try.

You only fail when you stop trying image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Kristen Ras

About Kristen Ras

Kristen Ras is a high school teacher, has a Masters in Pastoral Studies, and is currently pursuing a degree in counseling. A talkative introvert, she is passionate about finding joy in everyday life, no matter how inconvenient. For messages of hope and relatable memes, follow her on Twitter @kras0118. For insight about her other passion, gymnastics, read the blog The Couch Gymnast

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Learn to let go of the past and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Kristen, I can so relate to your story. I was very depressed as a college student. I hit bottom, then recovered, then relapsed in my late twenties. What you said about abandoning your pride – “I don’t need help! It’s not that bad!” hit a nerve. I had the same thoughts when I was relapsing. And it didn’t help that many of those close to me thought mental health treatment of any kind was for selfish people. And I was already a bad person for needing therapy once before. It took two people telling me I needed help – a career coach and a caring facilitator of a group – before I was able to get the help I really needed to heal.

    I am glad that it sounds like the people surrounding you were more supportive and that you were able to find peace with the struggle. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • TK

    I’m glad you brought this topic up. I’ve lived 47 years of my life in fear. So many risks and adventures I wanted to take in my life – everything from studying abroad, living away from family – and more recently wanting to go back to school for a career change – I’ve stifled because of an intense fear of failure and a deep belief that I couldn’t hack it. A lot of it stems from being bullied for 12 years through school, and having overebearing parents who created an intrinsic (and unjustified) fear of the outside world. I know, you’ll all tell me that “that’s the past, get over it”, but the scars have been enormously difficult to heal. The result is I feel a deep pain in my heart, a sense of remorse, regret and longing that haunts me practically on a daily basis.

  • Alison

    Lovely piece, thank you. Lots of parallels with my own experience. The final couple of paragraphs were particularly meangingful for me as someone who, like you has danced with eating disorders and sought help a few times over the years. Perfection and getting everything right no longer is at the forefront of my mind, I’ve learned to accept that I will slip and trip occassionally but it’s no longer a “tailspin, back to square one” situation like it was 2/3 decades ago. For me the most powerful thing I ever did was to embrace the thing I feared the most; FOOD, and I did that by signing up for multiple cooking and baking courses at night school, it was a major part of my recovery and has really helped me to normalise food and see it for what it is ( to keep me alive!), instead of demonising and living in fear of it.