A few years ago, if you asked me my biggest fear I would answer in a heartbeat. It was so easy for me to discern because it really was such a big fear of mine. Almost everything I did revolved not around achieving success, but around avoiding any form of failure. For a long time I was quite good at it too. I got great grades, and I never got into a lot of trouble. It sounds fine, but the life I was living was fairly stagnant. I'm not sure why I was so afraid of failure, or where that fear originated, but it was strong. It prevented me from trying new things, pushed me in directions I didn't truly want to go, and ultimately limited myself. Why would I try out for a sports team when I might get rejected? Life was fine. Why would I get more involved in any extracurriculars when I don't know what I'm doing? When I might fail at them? Life was fine. Why would I do anything outside of my comfort level when I might not do it perfectly? Life was just fine.
In first year my orientation week and my sophs were outstanding. They seemed to embody going above and beyond without fear of failing or messing up. This began to inspire me, and I started to think about trying new things. I saw something the first week into classes about a position on the Science Students' Council as first year representatives. My highschool students' council was nothing special, and definitely not enticing, but my sophs as well as my previous medical school aspirations pushed me to broaden my horizons. In my mind this was still a fairly safe bet, and I didn't think it would be very hard to get the position; not many people were interested in my highschool students' council and I assumed the same would be true now. I got the nomination form, got the signatures, and when the day rolled around, showed up to the election. Although it wasn't as easy as I expected, somehow I got the position. Failure averted. I seemed to be on a good path, until midterms rolled around. I started to get marks in the 60's and 70's, and though this wasn't a failure in the eyes of the school it was a failure in mine. Rather than learn from my past mistakes and study harder, I did what I've always done. I avoided the failure. I paid less attention to courses and more attention to extracurriculars, because it was there that I seemed to avoid failure more. I applied to soph and got it. Failure avoided. Then I failed my first university test, and started avoiding classes more. I campaigned to be a Science Councillor on the University Students' Council, and got it. Failure avoided. Then I nearly failed an entire course. You see the pattern.
This continued on into my second year, and although I wanted higher grades my habit of avoiding my studies when I started to do poorly did not help, not to mention I was highly involved in extracurriculars at this point. My grades floated just above passing for the most part and I was drowning in the other responsibilities that I roped onto myself. Don't get me wrong though, I loved what I was involved in - so much so that I decided I would run for President of the Science Students' Council. This was risky, as there was a good chance of failure, but at this point my passion overtook my fear of failure. Then, the worst thing possible happened. I failed. I failed at something big. Do you know what happened next? I woke up the next day and nothing was really different. I failed and my life didn't fall apart. I failed and I was completely fine. Yes it was sad, but I was alive and well. It was at that moment that I decided I would not - could not be afraid of failure anymore. How could I be afraid of failing when it ended up doing no damage? With this in mind I could actually do something with failure other than simply avoid it. I could learn from it, use it, and do it over and over and over again. And that's exactly what I did. I could look back at how I did poorly in classes and try to improve, because I wasn't afraid of failing a test anymore. I could try out new positions in extracurriculars, talk to people I previously wouldn't have, I could take more risks. Without the fear of failure looming over me I don't have to avoid things I would otherwise strive for. If I could offer any piece of advice it would be to fail often, fail big, and learn as much from it as possible. A few years ago, if you asked me my biggest fear I would answer in a heartbeat.
What's my biggest fear now? I'm not sure, maybe snakes. But failure? That's one of the greatest things that could have happened to me.