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F.O.F. – Fear of Failure is Blocking Your Progress

Posted by Chanelle Schneider on August 1, 2009

The following are two scenes from “Family Matters”. Carl, a husband, father to two teenage children and a police officer is feeling badgered by caring family members who want him to take a test that, if he passes, will promote him to lieutenant. Afraid to take the test, he displaces his own frustration and anger with himself onto the people who try to help him, namely, his teenage neighbor, Steve.

Steve: “You don’t wanna take that test because you have F.O.F.”

Carl: “What is F.O.F?”

Steve: “F.O.F is fear of failure. Even the most confident people have moments of fofnoscity.”

Carl: “Are you calling me…a fofnoficator?”

Steve: “When you’re feeling nervous, when you’re trapped in that emotional pit of doubt and despair, that’s when you dig deep into your character; and, peel away the layers of cowardice, self-doubt and nay saying until you get down to the raw steel of yes-can-do; and, then, you hot dip that steel, and fortify yourself.”

Carl: “Go home, go home, go home!”

Carl’s mother, Estelle, is called to help by his wife, Harriette, who he also became angry with for trying to encourage him to take the test. In speaking to his mother, the audience becomes privy to the real reason why Carl is so hesitant. Other officers have taken the test and failed, implying a feeling of intellectual inferiority. He is afraid of the disappointment that, he presumes, comes with failure. His mother informs him, though, that the real disappointment comes with not even starting.

Carl: “It’s a real tough test. A lot of very smart guys have failed it. Dad was a lieutenant. If I take the test and fail, I’ll feel like I’m letting him down.”

Estelle: “The only way you could let him down is if you didn’t try at all.”

This begs the question: Is it better to fail and make the people proud of your attempt; or, is it better to never start, and make the people wonder what you could have been? Worse, make you wonder what you could have been.

I have struggled all my life with the idea of becoming somebody. I never knew if I would ever discover what it was that I wanted to do, or who I wanted to be. Many ideas passed through my mind as a child growing up, but one was continually glossed over as immaterial.  A hairdresser, I thought I’d like to become because I enjoyed (and still enjoy) styling hair. I discovered a passion for music and dance but couldn’t sing; and, picking up choreography, was not my thing. I thought I could be a web page designer, coding pages, and making blank canvases come to life. That didn’t work out so well, either, though I still love to code. Something kept gnawing at me. A purpose for my life was there but was invisible to me.

I fought myself a lot; and, I wondered why am I here? Has everything that I’ve been through led me to the point I am at now? Too often the victim wants to respond. Too seldom the victor. I contemplate my life even though I know the answers. I wonder what my purpose is when in my heart it’s clear. The philosopher speaks up and goes on some diatribe about the mind/body connection and the disconnect that is evident. No. There’s no disconnect. The mind knows it. The heart knows it. I have all my answers and, yet, I stagnate. I stare off into the distance and envision myself enshrouded in darkness, sitting on the edge of a cliff above some grand body of water. Fade out. No Mary Tyler Moore-esque beret tossing moment – just the wonder of what will be.

Have all of the great thoughts been thought? There is nothing great or of value left to say, so what significance will my point truly have? I wondered. I was afraid to write for fear of being mediocre and not being remembered for having made a difference but, rather, for having made a fool of myself. Acknowledging what it is that I am to do in this world has been my point of hardship for so long. If other people have done it and better than me, what’s the point? The best statement has already been made. The best answer has been given. It’s not that I, vainly, want the admiration for having given the best answer. If someone has offered the answer that solves the problem, why continue offering solutions inefficiently? In The Mis-education of the Negro Dr. Carter G. Woodson affirms,

Their conception is that you go to school to find out what other people have done, and then you go out in life to imitate them. What they have done can be done by others, they contend; and, they are right. They are wrong; however, in failing to realize that what others have done, we may not need to do. If we are to do identically the same thing from generation to generation, we would not make any progress…What this age needs is an enlightened youth not to undertake the tasks like theirs but to imbibe the spirit of these great men and answer the present call of duty with equal nobleness of soul.

Imitation may be the finest form of flattery, but the great writers of the past would want new writers to use their words as inspiration for work that concentrates on the needs of their own generation. The problem may be the same, but the people have changed. The mindsets have changed. Each new generation needs someone of theirs to illustrate the issues of the time. As the greatest who have done it continue to leave this life, who are the people who will take their words as inspiration to shine a light on needed solutions?

Michael Jackson served as the inspiration for many entertainers of this generation. However, Jackson was inspired by the work of entertainers before him. Had he said to himself, “Jackie Wilson is the best. Why should I try to contribute anything to the music industry,” this generation would not have his unique contributions to serve as inspiration for their passionate pursuits.

Why wonder what you could have been? Listen to your music within.

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