The Fear of Failure

Q: I am a BE dropout, worked for few BPOs, now unemployed and I don’t know what to do and i am very frustrated with life, always brooding about the lost opportunities and a lack lustre future. How do I get rid of the fear of failure?

A: If you believe that you have a “lack lustre future”, chances are that you will be right. In order to change the course of your life, in order to live a better future, you have to first understand that your thoughts about your future are incorrect. They are unreal. They are figments of your imagination. Your pessimism is a result of your mind working against you.

Now, your mind is devious. It is going to try to convince you that you are in a difficult situation. You probably tell yourself, “I will not do well because I do not have an engineering degree. I am a failure and I am scared that I will always be a failure.” In this manner, your mind makes your despair worse. You begin to feel more and more fear, and this fear inhibits you from moving forward.

What should you do then to understand that your future is as bright as you want it to be?

First, see that this fear is irrational and unfounded. Failing an exam or an academic program does not mean the end of the world. Far from it. The biographies of successful people are replete with instances of failure that preceded success: Abraham Lincoln, Einstein, Napolean Hill, and closer home, Gandhi, Dhirubhai Ambani and so on.

Failure is always a stepping stone – either to further failure, or to success. The choice is yours.

Next, in order to transmute your present dejection and despondency into a drive for success, start by rejoining studies or employment. It does not matter what you do, as long as you do it with enthusiasm and passion. When you immerse yourself in your work – however trivial the work might seem – you will begin the process of change. Persevere, and believe, and soon you will know that your future, far from being lack luster, is actually full of reward, enjoyment and almost infinite possibility.

Your present situation is not a setback, but an opportunity for growth. Use this time to do the following –

a) Examine your assumptions about life and about success: What does success mean to you? What are your talents and strengths? How can you build on them?

b) Accept yourself unconditionally: People often grow up with the notion that love and acceptance are contingent on something else – either finances, looks, possessions, and so on.

When we are deprived of all these external trappings, we are forced to confront our selves, our core. This is the time then, to see that even without anything, without a job or without much possessions you are still a valuable and worthy member of society, that every one of us has an intrinsic worth. In the eyes of existence, we are all equal.

In summary, opportunities are neither lost nor found. They always exist, even in times of despair, perhaps especially in times of despair. Have faith, and confidence. Work and learn without fear. And a successful future will reveal itself to you.

Best Wishes!

Shyam Bhat MD

The Carpenter and the Woodcutter: A Fable

Ramappa decided to take up carpentry one day. “It’s better than simply chopping wood and giving it to others to make money,” he said.

“What do you know about carpentry?” his family asked.

“I can learn,” he replied.

And so he began, toiling in his shed, trying to shape wood into a chair, or a table. Some people laughed at him when he told them that he was a carpenter. “What do you know of furniture, maganey? You don’t even have a chair in your house.”

Others were angry with him, after suffering an ungodly pain in their nether regions, typical if anyone sat for anything over a minute on one of his chairs.

But slowly his work improved and each year, a few more people began to take him seriously, and each year fewer people laughed when he said, “I’m a carpenter, not a woodcutter.”

Day by day, year by year, he toiled in the shed. The wood cut his hands, he lost a finger to an axe. Month after month, he put his furniture out to sell, and when nobody bought it, chopped the tables and chairs up, to sell as firewood.

Then one day he successfully sold a chair. More chairs and tables began to sell, and a few years later, people even began to compliment him on his work. Now everyone called him Ramappa the carpenter.

He continued to work, trying to perfect his technique. A decade later, his work began to win prizes, big design prizes. He became a widely acclaimed furniture “designer” and now when Ramappa said, “I am a carpenter,” people said, “What a great man,” Others said, “Why is he pretending to be so humble?” and still others said, “What a postmodern, cool, ironic thing to say.”

Then one day, someone found something in their attic, an old chair made by Ramappa, when he first started calling himself a carpenter. A few more of these pieces were found, and they were all acclaimed as masterpieces.

In a few months, Ramappa’s current work, the furniture that he had so painstakingly learned to make, was deemed “ordinary, and remarkably boring.” “His old work,” one critic said, “makes his new work seem pretentious and superficial.”

Another said, “In order to be creative, you have to be fearless, bold, pushing the limits. That is what Ramappa had done in his early pieces.”

So he tried to make furniture like he used to, those odd misshapen chairs and tables that were previously worth even less than the wood that they were made of, those ugly objects, then mocked, and now loved.

Ramappa went back to his shed, but the magic was gone. He couldn’t make them anymore. He had learned too much.


I recently reread Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”.

My favorite passage from the book:

“The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.

In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way–an honorable way–in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.

For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

Niyama: The Greater Plan

When life does not go according to plan, and it so often doesn’t, you feel distressed: disappointment, stress, anxiety, worry, fatigue, irritation, anger, frustration.

The more detailed your plan, the more invested you are in it, the worse you feel when it doesn’t work out.

And when the plan doesn’t work out, you make it more detailed, put more effort into it, trying harder and harder to ensure that the plan works out the next time.

You plan more and more, to avoid disappointment, you try harder and harder, as the plans twist tighter and tighter, constricting your present life, making it hard for you to breathe, to breathe in the vitality of your existence.

So one day you say: I want to leave it all. Give it all up. Retire from the rat race, freedom from the bullshit. Move away to the mountains.

But you soon realize that this too is strangely unsatisfactory. The tightness of the plans are gone now. But once the breath returned, you asked, “What am I breathing for?”