Don’t fear failure: It’s actually one of the best things that can happen to you. When it comes to life’s lessons, failing ranks right up there with succeeding. That’s how Dr. Venus Nicolino wants people to look at defeat — even though she knows not enough people do.
Why is it a good time to think about your approach to failure? Because the new year is upon us. It’s a time when people resolve to make changes that can improve their lives in the coming year. Or, fearing that they won’t succeed, they may decide not to make any changes at all.
Even if you read this in July, it’s still a good time to take a new approach to life’s fiascoes. Nicolino’s central point is not so much about when you make resolutions, but about being OK with it if you don’t meet your goals or are unsatisfied with the outcome. Understanding why you messed up can help you succeed the next time.
Dr. Venus Nicolino, a Los Angeles-based bestselling author, has both a master’s and a doctorate in clinical psychology. She believes that making a fresh start is healthy as long as people maintain a realistic perspective.
“Take a deep breath and remind yourself of the goodness that came to you this past year. Then, take some time to rinse off any of the negative s–t that’s clinging to your soul,” Dr. Venus Nicolino said in a video on her popular TikTok channel. “The new year is going to be full of the R-word and the F-word … resolutions and failures. Embrace them both.”
For most people, unfortunately, that’s much easier said than done. For a variety of reasons, people continually fail when it comes to dealing with failure.
How Fear of Failure Controls People
To understand why Dr. Venus Nicolino — affectionately known by her nickname, Dr. V — talks about the need to change our approach to failure, it’s vital to understand how the fear of failure can paralyze people.
Fear of failure can materialize in a variety of ways, including believing you don’t have the skills or knowledge to achieve something, a belief that you’ll never achieve your goals, or lowering expectations by telling people you’ll probably blunder. Causes of fear of failure include a critical upbringing, trauma, and perfectionism, as well as a habit of defining failure as something that doesn’t work out exactly as planned.
A recent survey found that 1 in 3 Americans experience some type of fear of failure — more than those who reported being afraid of spiders, the paranormal, or staying home alone. Past research has also shown the connection between fear of failure and procrastination, which in itself can lead to actual slip-ups (such as missing a deadline for an important school paper).
Fear of failure is so common that there’s a word for it: atychiphobia. This phobia is described as an “intense fear of failure,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. The clinic added: “It may cause you to put off or avoid any activity or scenario that has the potential for an unsuccessful outcome. Someone with this condition may be scared to try new things, take risks, or embrace growth for fear of failure.”
We Fail Because We Are Human, Says Dr. Venus Nicolino
The findings from research about fear of failure represent one reason why Dr. Venus Nicolino, author of Bad Advice: How to Survive and Thrive in an Age of Bulls–t, refers to the ability to make a misstep unafraid as a “superpower.” She said it’s ironic that the worst grade students can get in school is an “F,” when failure is one of life’s greatest teachers.
“Our resolutions to change don’t fail because we use the wrong technique or don’t try hard enough. We fail because we’re human,” Dr. V said in the TikTok video. “The best resolution you can make this year is to lose your fear of failure. Fail as hard as you can. The memories of past failures turn into trophies of learning.”
She said rather than focus on not measuring up, people should think of the new year as an opportunity for a fresh start, but without putting so much pressure on themselves.
“Treat the next 365 days as a clean slate and don’t worry if that slate gets messy and cluttered up. Just throw yourself another New Year’s party in March or June,” she said on TikTok. “Because you have the power to hit the reset button for a fresh start any time you please.”
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
There’s another resolution-related concern that Dr. Venus Nicolino addresses. It involves actually achieving what you wanted to achieve, only to discover that what you thought you wanted wasn’t what you really wanted after all. It’s an issue that’s crucial to keep in mind when thinking about resolutions, which often are made with the hope that, if achieved, they will result in life-changing satisfaction.
In an interview published on Medium, Dr. V said that even if you discover what you thought you wanted doesn’t satisfy you, it’s essential to continue trying to understand your feelings and meet your needs. It’s another area where fear can cause trouble, preventing people from taking this step.
“Decide to be more courageous than afraid. You’ll transcend fear and reveal your feelings, along with the needs connected to them,” Dr. Venus Nicolino said in the interview. “You’ll recognize how those emotions and needs connect you with others. You’ll remember your undeniable worth, because you are worthy. You are worthy of all you feel, and every one of your needs is worthy of satisfaction.”
She also offered advice that’s important as people set goals, whether it’s on New Year’s Day or the Fourth of July: “On the other side of every struggle waits a greater version of who you are now.”