Failure – and the fear of judgement

We all fear failure! Failure is one of those concepts that stops us from attempting something new. Why? Because we fear being judged, so this makes failure the challenge we must overcome.

They say Failure is the route to success. We must fail to succeed! We must fail to test our determination and strength! And we must fail to win? We judge ourselves, sometimes harshly, and sometimes we are judged harshly?

Not everything succeeds the first time we attempt something, and often on the first attempt, feelings of dread can restrict us from trying again, which means we give up! So, failure wins and creates ANXIETY.

How we handle failure is what develops our character and strength. Here’s one of my failure’s, which was an epic failure, judged during a big event. It was my final presentation at a conference for my dissertation at university, the one examination that I needed to pass, where I WAS being JUDGED, and I failed! Spectacularly?

I was standing up in front of a packed room, delivering a seminar on my thesis, which was about how autism and the services for this disorder was sporadic to rural areas. I had a quick read through my papers, to re-memorise what I wanted to say. I wanted everything to go perfectly, because my grade was hanging on this conference. I was allocated a set time for the delivery, and for the past week, I had rehearsed and tweaked presentation and speech to make sure I didn’t go over time, and to ensure I was able to share the research in the set allocated time, as this was part of the mark too!

I had another look through my papers, I didn’t finish reading as I was called to take my turn for presenting my research!  I grabbed my papers, took a few deeps breathes and fired up my PowerPoint slide for the audience. Heart pounding in my chest, hands a bit sweaty, a tinge of pink, flushed my cheeks. In my mind I was telling myself ‘it’s nearly over, in just half an hour, the public speaking and presenting will be over.’

So, I started talking and explaining my research, I felt calm and relaxed and  then, after about five minutes, I noticed the sea of faces looking blankly at me? Puzzled, I turned to the screen when I suddenly realised I was talking about the wrong slide? I flicked through the papers in my hand quickly and noticed I had mixed up my papers? I was reading off slide 10 and the audience was looking at slide 6? I was talking backwards as they were looking at something unrelated to my speech. My heart thumped, and my cheeks went crimson?

Today of all days!

Panic kicked in… Inside, I was screaming, Nnnoooooo, this cannot be happening. Not today, of all days! The one exam I need, and It’s fucked??? OMG…  I took a few deep breathes in the hope that my crimson coloured face had cooled!

I had three choices;

Drop to the floor and bawl my eyes out like a proper baby, because my perfect presentation had gone drastically wrong? Why is this happening to me!! Pessimisitic!

Run out the door so that I didn’t cry with embarrassment and further mortify myself, leaving the room. Sparing myself any further humiliation? At least I could cry without the audience! I can’t continue, I’ve already failed to what’s the point!! Quitting!

Or run with it, pick it back up, toss aside the scripted speech and carry on, going from memory! The show must go on – Just keep trying! Optimisitic!

I chose option three, even though I was dying of shame inside and wanted to cry? So, with a pounding heart, that I hoped nobody could hear, I pulled it back as best as I could, (the show must go on!) I flicked back on my slides, and gave a clear analysis, hoping I would manage to complete the presentation in the time now!

I managed to complete the presentation in the set time, I managed to explain the thesis clearly. I’ll be honest, I actually wanted to cry, I felt so small and stupid for the mix up on my papers, for the cock up of my presentation and for I went over to the desk where the examiners were, I pried on the marking papers as the examiners all said well done. (There were some red X’s so I knew at the examiners table, my scores were going to be abysmally low!!) One of the examiners was the head of CAMHS and asked if she could use my research for a wider study she was carrying out. Which I agreed, and this comment evaporated my inner fear that I had completely failed the whole module!

My tutor gave me a pep talk and said ‘That was brilliant how you picked it back up and ran with it. I’m really proud of you for continuing like that,’ I was so grateful for her uplifting words.! I asked he if I had failed and she said she couldn’t tell me! I kept my cool and left the room, my heart heavy and loaded with anxiety and disappointment in myself. Friends and peers also commented and praised me for running with it. They all said they would of chosen option two. I knew my score was awful and it was another two months until my fears were confirmed. Although I managed to scrape through with the lowest mark of 40, it still affected my whole grade. This one presentation affected my grade and I lost out on less the 0.003% on the higher 2.1. Grade because of my presentation.

I was gutted! I commiserated myself with a few wines in the pub after collecting my results!

(Glasses not bottles!)

Once the alcohol had taken effect and the sadness subsided, I realised in that moment that if I didn’t continue, I would have failed the whole 60 cat module, and I would have had to re-sit the whole year! And, my research was being used for a study on a larger scale, so the major cock up of the presentation wasn’t so bad after all. At least my research was a success even if my presentation had failed.

Infact, this experience where I WAS being judged made me realise that with all the best intentions and all the preparation, perfect situations do go wrong!

I’m not perfect and my presentation proved to me that, with all the rehearsals in the world, we cannot control, mask or pretend that we are perfect. Even the most well-rehearsed and practiced situations fail, nothing is perfect.

And paradoxically, we define ourselves by those who judge us!  Back then, I didn’t believe I was good enough and neither did the panel!

If you’ve had a bad experience like this, don’t allow it to beat you. Don’t let a bad experience make you think you can’t, because you can. And don’t be conditioned by perfection, because it’s impossible. Perfect situations do go wrong…..

Laugh at your failures, and remind yourself, at least you tried, which accounts for more than the haters, and that’s why they throw the hateful comments at you. Because you tried. Failure isn’t the end, it the practice run, until you get it right.

Since this catastrophic experience, I didn’t allow it to stop me, I still stand up in the room and teach. I facilitate groups as small as 8 and as large as 30 + to teach health, strategies to cope with anxiety, dementia awareness, the list is many. The failure taught me confidence. A confidence that when things do go wrong, I can still pick it back up and go with it.

You’re not down, you’re not out of the game and you’re not beaten…. you’re trying, so give yourself some credit for trying. If anxiety grips hold of you, put your best foot forward and keep going, when the going gets tough, keep going!

Failure is a great motivator and teacher, when you look at it from a different perspective!

2 Thoughts

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