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This is a really good question that I think each and every one of us needs to consider! Obviously, I don’t have a definitive answer, BUT in my life and work I have found that there are 2 major themes that you can consider in your own life:

1. We believe that failure is a reflection of ourselves.

The idea that “if you failed then you are a failure” is probably the most common interpretation I have encountered. Many of us often equate who we are with what we do. This means that if we “failed” to accomplish our goal or live up to our expectations, then we have failed on a personal level. Now, what does it mean if you, the person, fail? Does it mean you are unworthy? The simple answer is no, that’s not true. If it was then I would be a pretty unworthy person as I have failed a lot in my life with all my academic struggles because of my learning disabilities. You aren’t a failure even if you fail. The only true failure would be if you just never did anything at all.

2. Failure and rejection are connected.

If I fail at something when no one is around, it probably won’t be as big a deal as if I fail in front of everyone. If I forget my line while I’m practicing for a play, it’s different than if I call “Line!” during the live show. The addition of an external viewer makes the failure feel bigger and scarier. If we fail in front of people, we think there is a much higher likelihood we’ll be rejected. Rejection and isolation are very scary things for many people. This shows us that it isn’t the failure itself but rather the perceived consequences that really bother us.

Take a look for yourself: what does failure mean to you, and why is it so scary?

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