Under the microscope: my fear of failure

Under the microscope, the Scud organism looks somewhat calm. Still for the past 30 seconds of observation, curled up tight, it’s tail arching towards its head. Calm. Still. In a moment the Scud stirs and darts along the edge of the Petri dish, curling and uncurling frantically. A deep strain of familiarity settles beneath my bones, somewhere intercostal and limitless.

What does a debilitating fear of failure look like? 

Is it 7 p.m. when I’m pacing rapidly, hands flying, jerky movements, shaking, clawing? 

Or the moments in between, curled up as tightly as the Scud, lights off, sensory input rejected as I lie in a state of calm cold panic.

It’s an honors college paragraph this time: literary analysis, a prompt that has always served me well in affirmation. But I can’t focus. My mind is cluttered with ideas of maximizing my success. If I can’t write my best, what’s the point?

A ringing in my breastbone sends me out of my chair in a moment, feet guiding me towards the silence of the chapel where, if I’m quiet enough, I can pace, gesticulate, tear, and scratch to my heart’s content without bothering another soul. 

Not enough rings by and by, a fluttery weight in the veins of my arms. Blood feels heavy and slow to glide along the tips of my fingers. There is time for work yet, but my mind has forsaken it, clothed in uncertainty and self doubt. In picking up the sword of the written word, I have dropped it straightaway as if the sword in the stone, when pulled from the rock, held too much weight to jab and swing and dived back into the mud, a rejection of your call to authority. Instead I carve my words into the mud, knowing their effect is so easily washed away, while my enemy lays unslain, the danger of a low grade marching toward my horizon. 

What is a fear of failure? 

Is it fearing a lack of accountability to the standards of others, or are you your own prison guard, glaring at yourself through prison bars, pulling yourself up before you have the constitution to stand? 


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