HomeanxietyFailure, Fear and Anxiety

Quite a few of the articles I see on a daily basis circulate around two things: fear and anxiety. Over the past few days, I’ve noticed that these two things are intimately connected with failure.

Failure to keep ourselves safe from violence. Failure to keep ourselves healthy. Failure to address symptoms of assorted chronic illnesses. Failure to make enough money. Failure to achieve success in school. Failure to accept the benefits of failure.

How in the world did we get to this ridiculous point in our evolution? Sure, we can blame the media, the government or the schools, but the problem has strong roots in how we view failure, success and what they are.

Short Term Versus Long Term Success
Part of what gets missed is the importance short and long term successes. Way too often, the short term trumps the long term, because you can see results right away.

For example, this article from the New Yorker talks about a practice, which takes place primarily in higher income schools, called Red Shirting.

Being a Star Trek nerd, I automatically thought of the unfortunate away team members in red shirts from the original series. For those who don’t know, they died in almost every episode. In this context, however, it means timing your child’s school enrollment so they’ll be the oldest one in their class.

The theory behind this is that because they’re bigger and a little more mentally developed than their peers, they’re more likely to be at the top of their class. Bear in mind, Red Shirting doesn’t happen because the child needs a little extra time to develop mentally and emotionally. Instead, it happens to ensure the child achieve success early on. It fails to take the genuine needs of the individual into consideration, instead emphasizing the importance of that child’s status in relation to the rest of their peers.

Even though this technique may succeed early on, later the child suffers for it. The article links to a number of studies showing that children who were Red Shirted ended up doing worse than their younger peers academically and socially

This, in turn, puts unhealthy stress on the individual child, which may be part of what contributes to later difficulties. Although they may do well in early grades, a number of things can happen later, like growing complacent or an inability to cope with future pressures. Regardless, that initial action taken without regard to the individual child’s needs is likely part of an overall pattern which is detrimental to their general development.

We see the same sort of thing in medicine, too. Medication given to kid with ADHD, autism or a range of emotional disorders may help with short term symptoms, but when it’s relied on exclusively, needed coping mechanisms don’t get developed. An understanding of the child’s underlying issues in conjunction with individualized therapy will assist with long term solutions, and perhaps an eventual elimination of medication.

Failure Doesn’t Feel Good, But It’s Needed
Part of the fear of failure involves how terrible it feels. We all need to feel the choke-hold tears put us in when we try to keep them at bay in light of a failed attempt. Knowing that feeling is what helps us appreciate the lightness of success all the more.

Unfortunately, many adults tend to fixate on that initial feeling and will do anything to spare their kids that experience. I understand that completely, but failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing, provided it’s used as a lesson and leaping off point for future attempts. With the right guidance and support, students will find their own ways to success.

Balance Is Key
The issue comes when only that failure is concentrated upon. In work and school alike, that’s exactly what happens. We tend to look at an individual’s failures instead of finding a way to help them use their strengths to bolster their weaknesses. By concentrating strictly on that weakness, regardless of how well intentioned we may be, we’re only setting that individual up for emotional burnout or worse.

Regardless of how strong you may be, when you’re continually put down, you will eventually break. If no one is able to support you as you build yourself up, naturally the end will be bleak.

So, the trick is to achieve some sort of balance between addressing failure on the way to success. Instead of getting stuck on the initial failure, treating it as a stepping stone towards the final goal is a better idea.

Help is Needed
I think the act of getting ‘stuck’ is what causes anxiety. It makes the task far more difficult, and in its extreme forms can cause physical problems as well as prevent future attempts.

The wall may be hard to get past, but with help, tools and
determination, you can leave it behind you.
(My photo, please let me know if you’d like to use it.)

It’s like a brick wall. Regardless of how many times you bash your body into it, the wall is fine, while you get bruised up. If you can’t go through it, why not find a way to go over, around or perhaps install a door in it? The problem there is that you need help to do any of these things. That’s where you need to find someone willing and able to help you with this. Sadly, in today’s world, asking for help is still heavily frowned upon.

That unavailability is another fundamental issue. If you’re a parent of a child with similar issues, or if you’ve gone through them yourself, you know how hard it is to find the right kind of help to get over these walls. Knowing this difficulty, and having it reinforced repeatedly, only feeds into the negativity.

Unfortunately, because children don’t have the experience we do, this horrible cycle is all they know. That’s where we adults have to come in. As hard as it may be, we need to model creative problem solving, so kids know it’s possible. We also need to guide them if they get to the point of being unsure of where to go, while still allowing them to do the needed work.

Part of that is learning how to accept failure for what it is, and sooth the fear in the beginning.

Failure is nothing more than a step in a staircase leading up to a goal. It’s scary at first, and some steps are bigger than others. It may feel like we’re falling at first, but when you see that step as a lesson off of which to grow, that fall will land you that much closer to the success you want.

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