What is a mistake? What is failure? Are the two connected? We all make mistakes or have experienced failure. It could be something small as work related or something on the grandeur side like family related or something we’re passionate about.  Most of us chalk the experience up to lessons learned moving us forward in life a bit wiser.  Then there are the few who struggle with mistakes.  Looking at these mistakes as failing.  It’s that failure that some of see as a lack of ability to be creative, be intelligent, having smarts or talent.  Is fear of failure the new mental block we need to overcome?  Let’s explore.

Making Mistakes

Making a mistake is not the same thing as failing.  A mistake is an incorrect, unwise or unfortunate act or decision caused by poor judgment or lack of information or lack of detail. However, while a mistake can lead to failure, mistakes don’t always end in failing.  When you make a mistake, you generally learn from it and fix it, whereas you can only learn from a failure. What does this mean for something struggling with mental illness or disorder?  Making a simple mistake at work for instance can be magnified tenfold leading someone believing their mistake is failure.

Example of this is when I made a mistake at work.  I took the wrong number written on my sheet by my boss and used that to make my calculations which were wrong. I turned in my work only to have another co-worker discover my calculations were incorrect.  She brought it to my boss’s attention. My mind and body went into fear of flight mode. Every muscle in my body aches. I had blurred vision. And yes, shortly after my nose bleed. Maybe twenty minutes into this episode I start to calm down. I turned to using my tools, in this case taking a break and listening to my favorite playlist. Later in the day, my co-worker approached me to show me what happened. It turns out it wasn’t a big deal.  All the drama was in my head  because of my fear of failing.  I took a simple mistake and turned it into this whole ordeal of fear of failing.

Fear of Failure

What does the word failure mean?  For me a person struggling with bipolarism, it means when I make a mistake it’s failure. That failure is how people see you. If people see you constantly making mistakes or “failing” then your worth is nothing. You are not reliable, relatable and dependable. When I was first diagnosed with bipolarism, I was an introvert. I closed myself off to everyone I came into contact with.  The only friend I have is my journal. I feel uncomfortable sharing parts of my life, especially the parts that are sad and painful.  I spent years in therapy trying to overcome this trait.  As I learned how to deal with my mental disorder, I basically traded one extreme for another. I went from being introverted to fighting for control.  I fell back into old habits of self isolation. To quote an excerpt from my blog “Controlling the Uncontrollable, “isolation feels so good, however, it’s a bad place to be.  In fact it’s the worst thing to be alone. I get lost inside my dark thoughts.  It’s not only a scary place but it’s dangerous.”   I realized that my fear isn’t failure but lack of control.

New Perspective

I had a conversation with one of my friends who suggested that I change my way of thinking.  Instead of viewing mistakes as failure in a negative light, turn it around and think of failure as a positive. It’s important to make mistakes because we learn from them.  It’s also important to fail at something we are passionate about because yes, you learn but also you grow as a person.  These experiences force us to deal with whatever we’re faced with, motivating us to be better.  It’s true some studies suggest that making mistakes and failing are positive things. Make Mistakes And Learn From Failure is an article published in the University of Cambridge Student Wellbeing blog that touches upon this subject. In the article researchers have studied and come to the conclusion that mistakes are important providing “opportunities for learning and growth.” 

Another article that touches on this subject is more intriguing. “The Art of Failing And Making Mistakes” looks at mistakes and failure scientifically. In this article written by Nick Velasquez that suggests quote “Failure and mistakes seem to be a common reason for us to give up learning a new skill.”  Nick goes on to say quote “They can discourage us and sometimes negatively affect the very image we have of ourselves. The reality, however,  is that the only reason we fail and make mistakes is because they are a natural part of the learning process.”  Nick’s article states researchers and studies show high achievers view failures and mistakes as feedback. They see this as temporary challenges to overcome and not a reflection of who they are.

It’s quite different for someone struggling with a mental disorder. In this article 10 Healthy Ways to Cope With Failureby Amy Morin discusses failure from the perspective of impacting the mental health community.  Amy gives examples of emotions that can affect you having a positive outlook such as Unrealistic expectations, Making comparisons with others and Low Self-esteem. She also gives techniques on how to change the negative thoughts to positive. Examples are Embrace Your Emotions, Practice Healthy Coping Skills and most importantly Acknowledge Irrational Beliefs About Failure.

The Takeaway

The takeaway here is two fold, one unlearn what you have learned (yes, Yoda was onto something) and two don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort. Not only you’ll feel better but you might enjoy the ride. What do you think the solution is? Please leave a comment.

Until next time.

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