Fear of Failure: Ancestral vs Modern Society

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fear of failure - personality development


The two kinds of fear of failure

So what are we exactly afraid of? Failing. Not achieving. Not getting it quite right someone may argue… But if you look into it closely, you will discover that there are actually two kinds:

  • Fear of never achieving what one needs or desires.
  • Fear of not achieving a particular milestone towards a goal right at the first attempt.

Primordial Fear in Ancestral Societies

In the old days (during the stone age , for example), when life was less comfortable and easy as it is nowadays. People had not much to fall back onto.  If they had to look for shelter, make new clothes or hunt a prey they had no choice.

Did they fear failure? Of course.  Very much. Fear encourages to give the best out of us to prevent a negative outcome from happening… As long as we act.


The difference here is that they feared not achieving the positive outcome, not the attempt itself. They would go hunting failure after failure, until they would get food. Either that, or they would starve. Hence the fear of failing.

However, in the old ages people did not have the luxury of being afraid of acting or trying, as that would automatically turn the outcome into failure.


Fear in Modern Society: Failing at the First Attempt


On the other hand in modern society we put more focus at failing at the first attempt. We fear the public humiliation of not performing perfectly. So oftentimes, because we are not in an urgent need to achieve a particular thing, we are happy just not trying, or at most, just trying once.

It has almost become a socially acceptable behaviour to avoid failing continuously, or at least it feels “natural”. However it is completely unacceptable naturally and evolutionary (and if you give it a bit of thought, irrational).

You  may argue that in a scale of 0 to 10, the level of failure at no trying is 0, as the chances of failing or not performing well are effectively that, 0. However the truth is all the opposite.

We humans regardless of age, sex or background are drawn towards achieving something, finding the needed resources, safeguarding our family, seeking more wealth, etc. This is the natural way.

This means that in our brains we have “no other choice” but trying, that is how we are designed, and this is how societies have evolved, for better of worsen but continuously changed.

Therefore not trying will always be a “10” in terms of failure. Maximum failure.


How Society Conditions us in the way we understand failure.

Because to some extent we are guaranteed a certain level of comfort (particularly true for richest areas in the planet), we are not in danger of dying of cold, starvation or being killed on a daily basis. We appreciate this but mistakenly understand it as “natural”.

It is great to live in welfare societies, where our lives are not in danger, but is this the way to be? Are our brains really ready to be idle? Let´s throw some thought into it…

Modern society has become extremely judgemental when it comes to failure. Failing at your attempt is humiliating. But this is because succeeding is not seen as essential, and here is where the conflict comes.


It is More Comfortable Punishing Those Who Fail at their Attempt, than Trying.

Also, generally people do not want others to succeed, at least those who are not the closest to them. This is because most people want to stay within their comfort zone permanently without feeling that they should do something about it.

This is extremely hard though: when someone sees another succeeding, undeniably makes them realize that they could try harder, therefore creating a conflict between what they think is right and what they feel is right.


self discipline - personality development


What if There Was No Choice?

Regardless whether people who look down people who fail do it because it makes them feel better (because they do not try) or because they feel they are superior at that skill.

This is why failing at times would not make us feel that bad if we knew that regardless what people think of us, we are doing the right thing, because there is no choice.

Sure, life was harder in ancient times, but there was no conflict as to whether to act or not.


 How Fear of Failure Creates Conflict

There are three possible states where our mind can be when attacking a problem.

  1. Relaxation State: The problem has been solved. Nothing else to worry about.
  2. Targeted Stress: We have a problem and we act on it.
  3. Unresolved Stress: We have a problem and we do not go all the way after solving it.


The first stat is obviously the ideal one to be in. The second one while stressing, it drives you toward action. The third leaves your brain lingering into the problem and never solving it.

Many unresolved stressful situations in life and are the perfect recipe for chronic stress and depression. Sure there are many things we can´t do anything about, this is why is so important we act straight on the ones we actually can.

Because no matter how good or bad our lives are at a given moment, unresolved stress will make them worse 100% of the time.


A Newfound Sense of Urgency

So at the beginning of this post it was arguer d that there is less need to get grips on your life thanks to the modern lives comfort. Do you still think so? Is depression, anxiety, worry and ultimately low self-confidence a blessing? Definitely not.

We do have the necessity to go after our goals in order to survive as healthy human beings, to thrive, to grow. And we can feel this way in a society where our life is not threatened on a daily basis, so it is not so bad is it?

We do not have choice.


So what are you going to do about it?

So you do not have other choice than growing, than going after your goals. The alternative is quite bleak if you think about it. And knowing this is something to be thankful, not fearful.

This is because no matter what anyone says, or what anyone does, pursuing your goals is your only choice; therefore you must be right at trying. You may fail, 1,2,3 or whatever amount of times, but you will be doing the right thing.

You are here to achieve things. I will not tell you to stop making excuses because here there is no judge or jury but yourself.

You have the power within to achieve things. You are made to achieve things. Feel the power inside, and this will enable you to go after your goals without the absurd fear of trying.

So not matter whether you are planning to learn Christmas crochet patterns or start-up your own company: Get out there and do it!

It may be difficult, you may have to find the way, ask for help, work hard and try many times, but with the certainty that you will not be wrong at trying.

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