“What if I fail?” VS “What if I succeed?” [Part I]

Before I got to the point, let me know if there’s a better title that suits this post 😉

Well, I might have touched on this topic in my previous posts, but right now I’d love to talk more “exclusively” about this topic: Success or failure, which are you more prepared for? I’ve been observing and pondering. I often heard people say, “But what if I fail?” I think, oftentimes, that’s what keeps people from trying. Trying to apply for a job, a scholarship, a school, etc. They are afraid to fail. They thought it’s too difficult and they’re scared they wouldn’t get it so they decided to not give it a try ’cause they thought their efforts wouldn’t be fruitful. I understand that we don’t want our efforts to go in vain. And I won’t invalidate your feelings (fears, anxieties, worries about failure, etc.) by saying, “If you really want it, you make efforts, not excuses” because I know that sometimes those feelings are simply inevitable. I totally get it.

However, it’s not efforts and excuses that I want to discuss here. It’s about what “scares” you: success or failure? I know many of you will say failure. Naturally, people fear failure. Why would you fear success? Fear and failure are negative. Success is positive. Why afraid of something positive, right? Logically, and perhaps theoretically, maybe yes, it’s true. But to be honest, looking back, it’s the other way around for me. Oftentimes, it’s not fear of failure that stopped me from doing or trying something. It’s the opposite: success. What if I succeed? What if I really get it? Am I ready for the consequences? Will I be able to take responsibility for that “success”? That’s what I always thought. I’d never really thought about failure. Let me illustrate it by sharing some of my personal stories.

First, when I was about to graduate from high school, there was this program that gave us a chance to get into a university using our grades and accomplishments in high school without having to take the university entrance test (it was called PMDK at that time (and gosh, this makes me feel so old!)). At that time, I was the highest scorer in my high school. 3 years in a row. Every semester. Of all classes in my cohort. I aced it all. In other words, had I tried that program, my chance to get into the university without taking the test was really high. I was such a good student too. Never caused any trouble or such. (Well, I was poor, you know. For the sake of a chance for a better future, poor students couldn’t afford to cause trouble🤪). So had I taken it, I might have really got it. But I didn’t give it a try. Why? No, not because I was afraid that I would fail or I would not get it. Not at all. At that time I wasn’t sure about what major I would take, so all I was thinking was “What if they accepted me and I decided not to take it in the end?” Because there was a penalty, you see. They said if I got the offer but didn’t take it, they would reduce the ratio/acceptance rate for my junior. You might think I was so nice and kind thinking about others instead of putting myself first (well, maybe I am🤪✌), but actually it was because I didn’t want to bear such a responsibility. If I applied for it, got it, and did not take it, and if because of that my junior had fewer chances to join the program in the following year, it would have been my fault, and I didn’t want it. I would feel guilty and that’s such a horrible feeling. So yeah, I didn’t take that chance. Not because I was afraid I wouldn’t get it, but because I was worried I would actually get it but not really want it.

Next, when I was in college doing my undergraduate degree. There was this exchange program to study abroad. Some of my friends got it and spent some time overseas. But I didn’t apply. Again, my goal at that time was to graduate with the best scores and without any delay (i.e. not more than 8-semester 4 years). I thought if I applied and was selected to join the program, I would have to be away for some time and I might have to take another/extra semester to finish my undergraduate degree. And I didn’t want it. The duration of my study would affect my “rank”, i.e. the longer I took to finish, the smaller my chance to be the best graduate would be. Indeed, extra semesters mean extra money: rent, food, tuition fee, etc. I couldn’t afford it. Not to mention that going abroad would cost money too. I didn’t want to burden my parents any more than I had. Well, maybe you think I didn’t really want it and I was just making excuses when I was actually scared of not getting it and feeling embarrassed for it. Or maybe you think I was too conceited thinking I’d get it when I actually might not get it. I know, there’s that thing too. And you might be right. I’m sorry. But we’re talking about how I didn’t think about “what if I fail” and, instead, thought about “what if I succeed”, right? So that’s the story.

Next, when I was working as an English tutor in my hometown and then trying to get a job at a university in the neighboring city. I remember feeling anxious at that time. I didn’t think about “What if I applied for the job but didn’t get it?” I was thinking, “What if I get it? Will my current workplace be ok?” At that time, some tutors had been resigning; either because they got married and moved out of town to join their spouse or because they passed the civil servant test (it was many people’s dream to be a civil servant, alright?😌). So I was like, “Wouldn’t it be too hard for them if I quit too because I got the job at the university?” Oh, no, not because I was too kind or something. I guess I was thinking too much about what others might say about it. I just didn’t want to be irresponsible. So, yeah. But thankfully some people managed to convince me that it was okay, and I really wanted to give it a try too because I wanted a better job, a better salary, and a better chance to improve myself personally and professionally. So I just went ahead and tried it. I got the job, left the old one, and my previous boss was actually happy for me. So I didn’t feel too bad about quitting or leaving. So I guess I worried too much. LoL

Then, with my scholarships for master’s and doctoral degrees? I had never had the “what if I fail” thought, seriously. Never. I mean, you might think I was trying to brag or show off in this post. I’m sorry about that, but it’s not my intention. My intention is to show you that sometimes there’s no use thinking about failure, you know. I mean, remember one of my mottos: “Plan for the best, prepare for the worst.” In the same way, “Plan for success, prepare for failure.” I mean, if I fail, life goes on. If I fail one, I can take another. If I fall, I can always get back up, right? Let’s say I did join the PMDK program at high school and didn’t get it. Life would go on; I could still take the general entrance test or the other tests. If I did apply for the exchange program at college and did not get it? Life would go on; I could still proceed to focus back on my goal to graduate on time with the best grades. And to be honest, when I was applying for the scholarship for my doctoral’s degree, I was actually planning it with a failure in mind. I planned it in such a way that if I failed the first try, I could learn from it and try better at the next opportunity. Well, I was lucky to get my scholarships on the first try, but I mean, even if I failed on the first try, I could always try again, right? So, why scared if you really want it? (But yes, of course, please plan it well, ’cause sometimes it costs a lot; don’t forget: Failing to plan means planning to fail (Benjamin Franklin)).

I mean, don’t let your fear of failure stop you from trying and giving yourself a chance to succeed. “What if I fail?” It doesn’t matter. Nothing happens. Life goes on. We go back to our usual life. It might not be the best but it’s not that bad. We’ll strive again, we’ll find another chance again. It’s not the end of the world. You’ve got nothing? Then you’ve got nothing to lose, right?

Well, I understand there’s also that part where we might be worried about what people might say if we fail that’s why we’re scared or anxious. That concern is valid, especially for someone who overthinks like me. But maybe we need to learn to shrug it off? After all, we do it for ourselves and not for them, right? It’s our life, not theirs. Each of us has our own path. And just because we fail now, doesn’t mean we’re a loser, doesn’t mean we’ll never get better.

Alright, actually I wanted to write more and focus on the “drawback” of this mindset, but this post has become too long, so maybe next time?

Disclaimer: I am not telling you to proceed without caution, okay? I am telling you to not focus too much on failing, telling you to go ahead with a good plan and effort instead of being too focused on your fear of failure and making excuses. Let’s say you’re in Town A and there is a very small bridge going to Town B. I’m not saying you should just go to Town B ’cause you would definitely get to Town B. No. Success is never guaranteed. I’m saying, ask yourself, “Do I really want to go to Town B? Am I really ready to leave my life in Town A and start a life in Town B?” If your answer is yes, then focus on making efforts to go to Town B. Make a good plan. Prepare to tackle and survive the small bridge. Don’t focus too much on the bridge thinking, “They say the bridge is small, I might not be able to get through it.” You know what? That the bridge is small might be just a rumor. And it might be small for others but who knows it’s big enough for you? And if you find that the bridge is indeed too small and you can’t get through it, can’t get to Town B, you can always go back to Town A, right? “That’s not possible, I can’t go back to Town A.” Oh my, there’s Town, C, X, Y, and Z. There are other bridges you can always cross. Is it clear or am I just downplaying everything? If that’s the case, I’m really sorry. It really is not my intention.

PS: In case some of you think that I’m just using this opportunity to brag and show off how great I was (at high school, college, or with the scholarships), seriously, to be honest, I actually didn’t want to mention it if not for this topic because I know people would have expectations and seeing how I am now, that’s just too burdensome. So please spare me your negative assumption and judgment. Thank you.🙏❤

PPS: No, I didn’t regret not trying those things I mentioned. No regrets about not trying PMDK or the exchange program in college. I am happy with what I’ve accomplished so far. I believe what I did and didn’t do is partly what has led me to everything I’ve achieved now.

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