Failure hurts no matter which way you look at it.
When a person has been working on a project or committed to a relationship and it doesn’t succeed, they feel understandably crushed.
But most of us find a way to either learn from failure or bounce back from it eventually and get stronger and even wiser the next time around.
For those who can’t get over failure it’s a little different:
It’s possible to become so fixated on a fear of failure that it begins to control a person and they orient their life around hiding how scared they are to fail.
Here’s what to watch out for in somebody who’s scared to fail:
1) They talk a big game…
Those who are hiding a fear of failure usually talk a very big game.
They want to look as competent as possible and come across as fully capable and confident.
Nothing fazes them, in fact they have big plans and abilities.
They list off various dreams and goals they want to do without going into that much detail.
But by all outer appearances, they seem to be a person who’s going places…
2) …But rarely come through
However, the issue comes when you get to results:
Those who are afraid of failure might talk a big game, but they rarely come through.
Their plans and dreams and ideals sound good on paper or when spoken:
But they quickly fade away when the rubber meets the road.
They’re so scared to fail that they rarely pursue goals beyond the initial stages.
3) They cling to daydreams
The only surefire way to avoid failure is to avoid taking any big risk.
As such, those who dread failure often avoid actually committing strongly to something.
They prefer to cling to daydreams and vague utopian ideals.
“Someday” things will be better, and if we can “finally” achieve this breakthrough then everything will start to make more sense.
Practical steps are often lacking, because they fear that if they really try and fail it will destroy them.
4) They rarely commit
As a result of living in daydreams and preferring to talk a big game, those who fear failure rarely commit.
They find it hard to overcome that negative inner critic who tells them they won’t ever amount to anything.
When you commit, you put your cards on the table.
This makes failure a very real option and also ties you to everyone else involved.
Those with a big fear of failure see a contract, a marriage or a serious relationship and feel pure dread inside:
“What if I commit and it goes wrong?”
5) They hedge their bets
As a result of rarely committing, those who deeply fear failure hedge their bets.
If and when they do commit, they usually only go half-in:
They start a business, but only with 30% of their available funds…
They enter a relationship, but still keep texting their ex and keeping a distant option of getting back together open…
They train to be an engineer, but they keep the possibility of a career in finance open, too.
Hedging our bets can be a very smart thing to do, but for those who fear failure viscerally it becomes more than just pragmatism:
It becomes an inability to ever be fully committed.
6) They cut and run when things go wrong
If and when they do get involved, people who fear failure tend to bolt at the first sign of trouble.
They don’t want to take responsibility or be associated with a failure in any way.
They’d prefer to get out as soon as possible and deny any link.
“That business that failed? Yeah, awful stuff. I got out early, though.”
“The relationship went south, for sure. I was the one who broke up though. I noticed the signs early on.”
And so on…
7) They rest on their laurels
Those who are petrified of failure tend to rest on their laurels.
Past accomplishments, titles or recognition are their safety blanket.
They cling tightly to it and repeat about how much they’ve done when possible.
The idea of failing terrifies them, so they stick to the “good old days” (real or imagined) in which they were a brilliant success story.
8) They latch onto popular trends
Those who fear failure tend to latch onto popular trends.
They figure that they should be associated with whatever “most” people seem to like.
As a result, they’ll be popular themselves and not fail or come up short.
If somebody asks what music this person likes and they say the same genre and artists as everybody else, there’s no chance of being “wrong” or “uncool.”
This is the basic instinct that keeps the failure-dreading person nodding yes to whatever the latest popular trend might be.
9) They cast themselves as always right
Those who inordinately fear failure portray themselves as being always right.
They are the final word on what’s correct or incorrect.
In fact, even when they’re wrong, it’s only more proof that they were actually right in a way people didn’t get or that they are just misunderstood.
Those who dread failure will say almost anything to avoid being wrong, even when they’re caught flat-footed.
This ties into the next point…
10) They deny their mistakes
Whatever mistakes they’ve made, the one who fears failure will deny them.
They will generally just deny the mistake occurred at all and if that doesn’t work then they will deny that their mistake mattered or made any difference.
This can be highly aggravating in relationships and in daily life.
A person who won’t own up when they fall short quickly becomes a person that others have trouble respecting.
After all, when somebody thinks they’re always right and thinks their mistakes weren’t mistakes (or didn’t matter anyway), how are you supposed to improve?
Without recognizing what’s gone wrong, improving for the future is very difficult.
11) They let others take the blame
Those who dread failure aren’t above letting others take the fall.
If and when it comes to that, they will gladly over-exaggerate the role that somebody else played in a failed project, relationship or situation.
They write a script in which they are the good guy:
The other person or people were the ones responsible for what went off track.
This kind of disloyalty and opportunism can seem very cold and cynical, but often behind its cruel surface lacks that insecure dread of failing or being seen to fail.
12) They use ‘appeal to authority’
Appeal to authority is a tactic used by many insecure people and con men.
It relies on referring to a popular or powerful person and how they believe the same thing as you so it must be true.
Those who fear failure to an extreme degree will often use appeal to authority.
For example, they will say:
“Yeah, well I got the numbers wrong, but didn’t you hear what Warren Buffet has been saying? It was definitely the right call at the time.”
In other words, even though they were wrong, important people and experts in the field agreed with what they did.
Therefore they don’t owe any responsibility for being wrong and, in fact, they are right and smarter than you or anyone challenging them.
13) They adopt rigid dogmas
Those who are afraid of failure will often adopt rigid dogmas as well.
In such a way, they hope to be shielded from anything unexpected or upsetting occurring.
Having a strict set of rules or beliefs will make sure everything is safe, they imagine.
The reality, of course, is that they end up boxing themselves in and feeling even worse when they fail despite trying to cling to a rigid belief system.
14) They try to sabotage others
Those who fear failure deeply sometimes stoop to a very low level.
Sadly, this can include trying to sabotage others.
If other people fail, they will feel reassured that at least they’re not missing out in some way.
When they decide they “can’t” or probably won’t achieve a goal in their personal life or work life, seeing (or being part) of somebody else also not reaching that goal comes as a relief.
In some cases, real gossip, sabotage and backbiting may be at work. In other cases, it’s just a matter of seeing somebody’s misfortune and gloating.
It’s what the Germans call schadenfreude, or joy at someone else’s misfortune.
15) They judge and criticize
Another unfortunate aspect of those who are trying to hide a fear of failure is being overly critical of others.
This is a classic sign of insecurity:
When a person isn’t sure of their own value or potential, they start looking to tear down others and feel more secure.
It doesn’t work, of course, and leads to a spiral of bitterness that eventually needs to be broken.