Emma Coolen - Blog - Falen

I have a confession to make: I’m terrified to fail

The timing couldn’t have been better. Mere days after I wrote my blog on quitting smoking, I bumped into the book ‘Mindset‘ by Carol Dweck in the school library. I finished the book almost in a single sitting, and the lesson it taught me was a tough one. And to be perfectly honest, I’m extremely nervous about the moment I press the ‘Publish’ button on this story later on, and catapult this confession onto the world wide web. But I think it’s important to come clean about this.

Fixed vs. growth mindset

Carol Dweck - MindsetIn the book, Dweck explains the differences between a so-called ‘fixed mindset’ and a ‘growth mindset’. The simplification that follows here does absolutely not do the book any justice, but to spare you an endless summary I’ll briefly explain the two terms here. The fixed mindset starts from the thought that all people have inherent qualities, skills and talents, that are (largely) unchangeable. Some people just happen to be born athletes, others blessed violin players, and when you haven’t shown any signs of creativity in your childhood years, you definitely shouldn’t count on landing a creative job at any time in the future.

The growth mindset on the other hand, states that yes, people do have innate and genetic qualities (such as height, eye colour and sexual preference), but that we as humans can learn and improve things, sometimes much more than we tend to give ourselves credit for. Dweck states that everyone falls somewhere on this spectrum, and that people even can have different mindsets regarding different aspects of life (for instance, I could be convinced that athletic ability is innate, but that creativity can be learned, or vice versa). In this spectrum there is no such thing as right or wrong, but Dweck is quick to point out the downsides of the fixed mindset.

Not the new Van Gogh

Imagine this scenario. I decide, for the very first time in my life, to try my hand at painting. I prepare as best as I can, reading books on painting techniques, buy the finest materials available, and for weeks on end, I work mercilessly on my debut masterpiece. When it’s finally finished, I come to the painful conclusion that I’m probably not the new Van Gogh. Simply put: it sucks. What does this mean? In the fixed mindset, I’d probably give up at this point. Unfortunately, I’d conclude, I’m just not a ‘born painter’, and not blessed with the ‘gift of creativity’. Time to move on to the next skill, in the hope that I run into something I have a natural, almost magical talent for that one.

In the growth mindset however, my disgrace on canvas is only the beginning. No, I’m not a born painter. But honestly, who is? If I’m really dedicated to become a skilled painter, this would be the time to see if I can find out where it went wrong. I can ask established painters for advice, talk to photographers for feedback on my composition, and learn more about available materials at my local arts and crafts shop. When you learn from it, every single mistake is a step on the road to success.

Get up and move on

Do you feel the difference? If I want to reach the World Cup, and shout that from the (digital) rooftops to anyone that’ll listen, and I end up not making it, I’d be a failure in the eyes of the fixed mindset. I gave it everything I had, poured my heart and soul into that one big goal, and failed. Loser! In the growth mindset, not reaching the World Cup would also be a disappointment, absolutely, but my perspective on that happening would be completely different. I didn’t make the World Cup, that’s a fact. But why? Time to talk to people, to work even harder, and to set new and improved goals. Get up and move on.

Sounds pretty simple, but of course, reality is different from that. Failing is scary, especially when you have to go to your social media afterwards with your tail between your legs, and tell hundreds of people that you failed. And to be honest, I’m terrified of that. The World Cup is no longer a dot on the horizon, it’s nearing with huge steps at a time. And with that, the chance of me not making it becomes bigger every single day.

Self protection

‘That exam today, whoa… I didn’t study at all. That’ll probably be another F, haha!’ Does this comment sound familiar? High school and college students love it. Because what does it imply? ‘If I fail, at least I’ll know why. I didn’t study. If I had given 100%, I probably would have made it.’ Not giving everything you have becomes a form of self protection, that provides you with a safe scenario in case you don’t make it.

After reading ‘Mindset’ I suddenly realised why I’ve been less motivated for soccer lately. It’s pure self protection. I’m scared, terrified, to not make the World Cup, and the public humiliation that I would have to go through afterwards. That’s why I stopped working hard. If I don’t make it, at least I’ll be able to tell myself: ‘If I had given it my all, I probably would have made it.’ A really, really painful insight.

Working on your dreams

Emma Coolen - Twenty TwoBut just like my blog on quitting smoking helped me resist that temptation, I hope that this confession in the shape of a blog will help me beat my demons when it comes to fear of failure. That’s why I have something to tell you today. My name is Emma. I’m 23 years old, and my biggest dream is reaching the Dutch women’s national team for the 2019 World Cup. There’s a significant chance that I won’t succeed, and that keeps me up at night. And that’s okay. Even if I fail, the sun will presumably rise as usual the next day. On June 9th, 2019, I will shed some tears, say some curse words, and then start working again. After all, the Olympics are just around the corner in 2020. Am I afraid to fail? Absolutely. But the minuscule chance that I do make it is my biggest motivation, and is the reason I get out of bed enthousiastically every single morning, ready to work on my dreams. And I wouldn’t want to miss that for the world.

Thanks for reading, talk soon! 🙂

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