The Fear of Making a Mistake

beeflowerThe fear of making a mistake and the fear of failure live at the heart of what keeps many people stuck. Whether you’re struggling with relationship anxiety, career stagnation, depression, or generalized anxiety, the fear of making a mistake creates a debilitating and frustrating state of paralysis where you simply can’t move forward and express the longings in your heart.

I’ve often received emails like the following, one of which sparked my initial inspiration to create the Trust Yourself program years ago:

I’ve been able to work through my relationship anxiety, but now I’m suffering from career anxiety. I long to move my career to the next level and start my own business, but my fear of failure and making a mistake get in the way. Every time I start to move forward, the chorus of negative voices start chattering in my ear about all the reasons why it won’t work, why I’m not good enough, why I don’t have enough experience or enough to offer, how it’s already been done. These voices stop me in my tracks every time.

This email echoes hundreds of posts on the Conscious Weddings E-Course forum, and over the years it has become increasingly evident to me that one of the spokes of the relationship anxiety wheel – one of the key components that keeps people trapped behind the barricade of doubt and fear – is the addiction to perfection and the fear of failure.

When we unravel the fear of making a mistake, we find the addiction to perfection at the center. And when we break open the addiction to perfection, we find a desperate need for other people’s approval and for certainty, as if our worthiness for being alive is hinged on receiving positive accolades from others. This can manifest around your relationship, your work, your friendships, or just your own, individual self. When we don’t value who we are, the fear of making a mistake becomes intolerable.

Conversely, when we shift our mindset and instead view life as an opportunity to learn and grow, we find true freedom. Suddenly the clarity we’ve been longing for around major life decisions arrives, and we’re able to act on this clarity with a firm sense of resolve. We may still fear making a mistake, but we don’t allow that fear to make our decisions for us. We recognize that each situation in life – a romantic relationship, a career change, parenting our children – is an opportunity learn and give.

Everything shifts when you reverse your mindset from, “What can I get?” to “What can I offer?” But in order to offer your intrinsic gifts you need to trust and value what those intrinsic are. You need to be able to look inside and honestly be able to reflect your own inviolable essence.    You need to shift your value system from one that places high premium on externals achievements – or externals in any way (looks, income, house, what your partner looks like, degree of eduction) – and learn to connect to the inner realm of heart and soul.

Then you will know your gifts and you will be ready to offer them to to world whether or not anyone takes notice. And, in case you’re wondering, everyone has gifts to offer. They may not be the skills that we learn to value in our rationalist-materialist culture, but they are gifts that our world needs: your kindness, your love of animals, your emotional sensitivity, your creativity, your connection to worlds unseen, your loyalty, your devotion to those you love. How will embracing these qualities translate into a career path? It’s not a linear formula that I can enumerate here, but what I know to be true is that passionate careers begin from the inside out, from a deep desire to express and share, from a need to help in some way. Your offering will not speak to everyone, but when you give from this place, you find the people who long to hear your message, and you land in your place in the world.

I’ll end with an email I recently received from a Trust Yourself participant several months after she participated in the program (shared here with her permission). It brought me to tears when I read it, as it illustrates so powerfully what can happen when you reclaim your self-trust and make decisions from that place of inner clarity and freedom. We do this for ourselves, first, and then, with a natural rippling effect, we do it for the healing of the world:

I have to tell you that my life changed because of your 30-day Trust Yourself program.  Not only did I quit my hospital job to go on my Buddhist Pilgrimage to India and Nepal, I have begun the work of becoming a Humitarian Relief worker – a lifelong dream.  My work as a Hospice Nurse, which I returned to after quitting the hospital, is per diem status which gives me the freedom to be gone for chunks of time.  I have let fear go and stepped into courage to follow my passion.  My first mission is in September, when I will join a small group of committed clinicians to trek into the Upper Dolpo Region of Nepal for 30 days where we will offer 5 clinics along the way.  We will be visiting some of the highest settlements on the planet (hiking between 10K and 18K ft) and moving through terrain on the Tibetan Plateau of the Himalaya that has only been open to foreigners since 1992.  I cannot begin to imagine what I will learn.  I pray (and trust) that I am of service to those we endeavor to help.
I read once if you follow your passion, you will find your purpose. I needed to Trust Myself to do this, and I often have to remind myself things you taught me, so I still listen to your MP3s -so wonderfully supportive – and I continue to trust and KNOW that I am on my path.
In gratitude,
Namaste,
Rhiana 
This will be the last time that I offer Trust Yourself as a live program where I’m moderating the forum and leading weekly group coaching calls. If you would like to join me, please click here.

39 comments to The Fear of Making a Mistake

  • Angela

    Sheryl, I know people that actually look like there so confident in themselves they think there high achievers and want there kids to be high achievers. They always say things like that are so positive everything is great. Please dont get me wrong I am not at all envious because having it all together all the time and being happy all the time is not life. These type of people are the ones that thrive of reputation and worry what people think. They dont want to fail, thats a hard image to maintain. We all fail and its ok we all mistakes and its ok. Those type of people i only worked with. My real friends are simple, genuine honest about how they really feel. I dont like fake people. Im so glad im not fake at all. I love who I am. I just need to find my north star and i will grow into a even more humble woman.

  • Marissa

    What a timely post! (for me, that is), thank you, Sheryl. I am handing in my resignation letter for my job tomorrow. I have been waking up with a feeling of dread and anxiety in my heart every day for weeks – and intermittently for months – because my work environment had become so toxic. I have been wanting a change since last November, when I started to feel that this was no longer the right place for me, but I ignored my higher wisdom. I kept pushing through, kept working harder to appease my boss, and then I found out that my colleagues were saying false things behind my back! I struggled with feeling insecure and thought “If I can’t hack it here, what does that say about me as a professional”. I was functioning from an insecure place, a lens of deficiency in which I saw myself as the problem. As a yogi and contemplative thinker, I assumed that it was my perspective and approach that needed tinkering. After attending a yoga workshop last weekend the truth rang clear in my head and heart – it’s time to quit! I don’t feel inadequate, or like a failure. If anything, I feel empowered – to a large part from the support of my amazing husband – to leave a well-paying, stable career position to venture towards other avenues of my life that are life giving, not life sapping. Thank you for the reminder that changing one’s path is not failure, it is wisdom.

    • This brought such a big smile to my face, Marissa. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Zoe

      Hi Marissa

      I just wanted to add to this a little. I am someone who likes to succeed part the reason for this is because people would often tell me I probably wouldn’t make a-levels. I went on to do a degree, then another degree and now considering a Ph.D after I practice as a m.h nurse. Before this I was pretty convinced (and ok with it) that there was limits to my academic and career success. Now however, through sheer hard work and determination I am doing things I didn’t think I could. However there is a problem with this as I feel I have to convince people I really am capable. It becomes an anxiety in a way and itch I can never quite scratch. Now I have to do well otherwise I feel people will think less of me. I would not describe myself as fake and am very honest and will openly admit I am very insecure and reflect on this regularly however I just wanted to say perhaps these people who have to succeed, may not be fake at all, they may be aware but just be really scared of letting themselves and others down. X

  • Tee

    And I exhale… As always, Sheryl’s post is perfect timing! We really are all connected! As the poster before shared, I too have been struggled with my job for a few reasons and know that I’m not fulfilling my dreams by focusing on the job. I work for an organisation that does great things but ultimately, it’s a 9-5, I’m stuck behind a desk when I know that my passion involves getting out there and helping others.

    For me, I know I want to coach others in transforming their lives and living the life they really want and deserve to live. I still get the annoying, self-limiting beliefs that say “but you’re not qualified, but what if you don’t make money” etc. I hear the beliefs but I’m no longer letting them keep me captive. I’m starting on my website this week and have found my own coach to help me grow. I can’t wait!

    I also took the Trust Yourself course recently and it really helped me to have more faith in myself and trust myself. Thank Sheryl and thanks be to God that I can push forward to live the life I was called to! I’m
    so excited!!

  • Faith

    This was also extremely timely for me Sheryl. Since the closure of the store where I work was announced in April, I have paralysed by fear as to what I will do next, but had decided to stay with the company beside my better judgement. I never wanted to remain in this job but always believed i couldn’t do better and I didn’t deserve better.
    Today I was offered a job at another location within the company and they’ve cut my hours by a third. I had been convinced for a while I can do better for myself, and then seeing my husband being offered a new job, maybe it’s time i started the business I’ve thought of starting for a year!
    Thank you!

    • Yes, start that business! Few things make me happier than when people find the courage to follow their dreams and passions. It’s a path that brings true wellness and satisfaction.

  • Angela

    I have had a few career changes through the years. I liked my jobs because I felt I was helping people but i fell into these jobs primarily for the money as i needed a source of income. Having the experience with those careers, i now realise what is my passion.. Fashion, food, interior design, I would love to start my own business but I dont have the cash and I think i just have to wait until me and my hubby save for a deposit to open up a gas station maybe in Melbourne where it will be more affordable. Sydney is a very expensive city and im looking forward to change cities in the near future.
    Good on you guys for chasing your dreams.

  • Bra77

    Hey Sheryl,
    I love my girlfriend very much but have been dealing with relationship anxiety. As I go through life, I see attractive people. I want to one day marry my girlfriend but every time I see an attractive female I get nervous and ask myself is this really what I want and am I making a mistake and makes me question if that individual would be better for me. I also fear for falling out of love with my partner and falling in love with another individual. Is this my wounded self trying to protect me from wanting to commit to my girlfriend?

  • Kevin

    Thank you for the post Sheryl. For the past couple of months, and even before that, I’ve been feeling really uncomfortable around my partner, I felt little desire towards spending time with her, and I’ve even been thinking to myself that I didn’t like her because every single time I see her, I see her flaws I feel myself lock up, and I would try to look for angles where she looks like what I expected of her, I found myself constantly reminding myself of our lack of common interests and I’m really not feeling the connection, and I’m really afraid that staying with her is a mistake, and that terrifies me, I’ve been trying to make room for her flaws but it still bothers, also, I have been a perfectionist for a while and I’ve always been low in my confidence, I am aware that I depend on the acknowledgement of others, and I’m not sure of this has anything to do with my discomfort and perception towards her. I have taken your ‘open your heart’ course, and while it helped somewhat, I still can’t stop feeling this way, what can I do?

    • There isn’t one course that will address all aspects of anxiety; this work requires multiple layers of attention in multiple ways. And there isn’t a quick fix. You’ve struggled with anxiety and perfectionism for a long time – possibly your whole life – so it makes sense that it’s going to take time to heal from the roots. Have you considered joining this round of Trust Yourself?

      • Kevin

        I have, but as a student, I don’t have the ability to afford this. A part of me just really wants to know if she is right for me, and I’m just letting my negativity get to me, instead of me being right and having to leave her

  • Helen

    I appreciate your amazing words which help me every day. I wish I could have been so brave as these people who have made career changes. I have let myself down as I had a great opportunity in a job I would have loved but unfortunately became so scared of letting my boss down that I turned it down. I have beaten myself up everyday since and feel like I am screwing up more and more elements of my life since. Silly really to put so much weight on one decision but really need to learn how to let it go and move on. Overwhelmed with life at the moment x

    • There will be other opportunities, Helen. My guess is that this disappointment about the job opportunity is a magnet that’s attracting all of the shards of your own anxiety/grief/fear that need attention.

      • Helen

        You are probably right. I recently moved home after several years overseas, married, had some family illness all in space of a few months. Wedding feels like a blur in the middle of all the chaos of moving. Have a lot of regret around how it all worked out. Since we married I feel like I have constant anxiety around my feelings for my husband. Questioning us so much and keep wondering if I have jumped in too soon. Although we have been together 4years and lived together for most of that time. Just learning that we are different and maybe we always were but now that we are married our differences scare me. When we married he went through a stage where he took me for granted and let me down. Have discussed and hopefully addressed the issues but something in me has changed since then. im scared of what our future holds. Feel terrible but I find myself thinking of male friends and wondering if they are better matched to me. Before we married this never came into my head! Then am anxious about other family members becoming ill, regretfull about poor decision making and in a highly stressful job. Think ive lost myself somewhere between moving back and marrying. Dont know where to start with getting me back again and feeling content in my relationship.

  • Aileen C

    Hi there. My name is Aileen Corcoran. I am Irish. I am ginger. I love reading and animated movies. I am in love with a guy who is both exactly like me and yet completely different.

    He’s the only one I’ve been with, and I would not mind if he is the ONLY one. Time will tell. I love him with all my heart. I feel so at peace when with him. He makes me smile, he makes me laugh, he makes me cry. When I’m with him I don’t want to leave his side. He’s a pain in the behind and the one person who can make me smile at the drop of a hat. He hates reading, yet respects that I read. He isn’t as quick witted or intellectual as me, yet he can be so wise and makes me laugh with his antics. I’m smiling here typing about him. I am seeing him Friday. I wish it was sooner.

    When I’m with him, I feel blissful and at peace (mostly!)

    When we’re apart, my Little Friend comes.

    My Friend sits on my shoulder. I read my books, I watch my videos. Someone makes a joke, my Friend goes “would he make a joke like that? Would he laugh at that? Is he not funny enough for me? Oh God, this is bad.” Even though we laugh together. Sure he’s no Billy Connolly, but he always has me smiling – or cringing. Yeah, he might not be a comedian but I don’t really care. These thoughts make me care more when I’m with him I could care less.

    I could be having a conversation with someone, my Friend says “would he talk about this? Would he get this? Is he smart enough for me?” I panic, thinking I should go out with someone smarter. Yet I can talk to him about anything, ANYTHING. He brightens my day. Heart matters more to me than brains. I honestly couldn’t care if he dropped out of school and joined the circus. He’s plenty smart enough for me. Yet I worry.

    I worry non stop; is he the one? Should I date others? He’s your first love, should you see other people? You want to end it! Oh dear Jesus his jokes can be annoying, that must mean I find him 100% annoying!!! What if this doesn’t work? What if I get bored or he annoys the living daylights outta me? Am I comfortable but unhappy? Am I happy but uncomfortable? If I’m anxious around him, it must mean I’m unhappy with him!? If I feel a negative feeling it must mean something bad about us!!!??? AARRGH. The list goes on, chops and changes. Same thoughts, different day. Some are new.

    Meanwhile, I am becoming more comfortable with Himself. I feel so peaceful when around him… I feel at home. I miss him two days after seeing him. I want to speak to him on the phone even though I don’t like the phone much. I want to spend more time with him. ALOT more. I spent all night cuddling with him and the next day just hanging out and yet when he had to leave my heart snapped. I hate leaving his house. Boring things seem exciting. I would freaking love to live with him. I see myself with him for a long enough time and WANT that. Whenever we speak, meet, touch, I fall deeper, harder, faster with a man I feel in my heart of hearts… may be the One even though I don’t believe in that concept.

    Yet when I’m on my own, my Friend comes out to play.

    My name is Aileen Corcoran. I am in love with a perfectly imperfect man. I suffer, from relationship based OCD (rOCD).

    Five years. Here’s to five more.

    Ilysm x.

    If you’re crazy in love like me, feel free to respond 😛 Sheryl, I’m terrified to read your blog, as you well know, anxiety is no picnic. You seem to get the whole rOCD, so maybe your site and Bruno Ping (he runs an rOCD recovery blog) along with my supporting mom and fella can help me along on this rollercoaster that, hopefully, will mostly go up.

    Fellow rOCDers, I salute you!

  • Chelsea

    I must say I love this site and it always gives me some peace when I read your articles Sheryl. I have never been diagnosed but have struggled with anxiety since I was younger and it was always about work and my relationships, big life changes, etc. I have fearsome thoughts and struggle with rumination, lots of black and white thinking. I drive the people in my life crazy and let others opinions rule my decisions or how I feel about my situations instead of simply trusting me. I never trust myself. Well, only when I think my anxiety is the voice of doom. I did myself a huge favor leaving a toxic job about 2 months ago and am much happier though my current workplace can be stressful in its own way. Right now I’m dealing with a new boss and a new relationship. My relationships have always been a huge point of anxiety. I almost always have anxiety in them. I just started dating someone from my school days and it was an instant connection, calling and talking, talking about old memories and I was very attracted and couldn’t believe we had found one another. Then a few weeks later I woke up and felt pure fear because I felt like I needed a little space and was looking at things and looking for signs we were headed for failure because I have a pattern of unfulfilling toxic relationships. All I know of relationships is pain and heartbreak so I expect it. I started wondering why I needed space, did he love me more than I loved him, is there something wrong with needing space? Did I truly find him attractive? Did I want him to be more exciting like the jerky guys who left me in the dark? Along with many lingering feelings of the past of not being good enough. Feeling like he had flaws and why am I getting irritated when really all I need is some time to breathe when work and a new relationship overwhelm me. I truly believe I love my partner but every other day fear surfaces ripping the rug out from under me and googling my problems makes me question myself even more. It feels like torture and has plummeted me into depression. Why can’t I just be happy? I’m a people pleaser and always want to be liked and certain of every outcome.I have fears that I want to be single, though I know my boyfriend is kind, loving, attentive, and truly is the man I have been looking for all my life. I also fear his flaws are not able to be accepted and know I really don’t accept mine. I am not confident and don’t always love myself. In reality he is vulnerable and open and lovable. It is a shame I can’t call myself the same in confidence. I don’t know who to turn to, I drive my family and friends crazy with my constant revolving emotions. I want the rollercoaster to stop.

  • Klewis23

    I read through comments where the person left a job because of their “gut feeling” that it wasn’t the right place for them to work, and they’re happier now. My question is how are these “gut feelings” different (or the same) as an individual who experiences relationship anxiety and their gut feeling may just be intrusive thoughts. I’ve never experienced career anxiety and I am generally happy in my job, but I know that I’m not expressing myself fully but rather took the position as a resume builder. I sometimes wonder if I was happier at work if my anxiety in the relationship wouldn’t be as great.

    • What I can tell you is that when you know yourself and trust yourself you can discern more easily between “gut” that’s coming from fear and “gut” that’s coming from truth. 99% of the people who find their way to my work on relationship anxiety have a “gut feeling” that their relationship is “wrong”, and yet when they work through their fear, grief, unrealisitic expectations, and other underlying/root cause issues, they’re able to fully embrace the loving and positive relationship they’re in and it no longer feels wrong.

  • Angela

    Sheryl, I do remember trying to do the right thing. Pleasing others, family, bosses, friends. What i now realise. The only person to make me happy is yourself. Myself. I come first and I dont feel guilty at all for being selfish. I choose not to waste my precious time and energy in trying to explain myself to my family about how i felt and still feel over the years. I didnt feel appreciated and understood. Being the eldest in the family has been so hard on me. I tried my best to be a good daughter and sister. I have never been treated with kindness that i deserve. Its upsetting to me when my own mother dosent like my husband just because he is quiet and shy. He has been respectful polite from day 1 sheryl. I am just hoping one day she will change her judgemental ways about people. You can only hope.

  • Beth

    This describes me so well. It’s so hard to try to make a relationship work when you don’t actually believe that it ever will because you just don’t feel like you’re capable of having a relationship. I feel like an observer. Like I’m not even real sometimes. Now that I’m in a relationship, I always feel like I’m dreading something and I have this feeling that it’s all wrong and I’m so afraid that that feeling is right.

    Also, for Sheryl or anyone else dealing with this, how much do we tell our partners about our relationship anxiety? Mine is almost totally in the dark and I feel so guilty all the time. I’m so scared to tell him, though.

    • H

      I sometimes feel like this. I think people like us don’t ever believe we truly deserve love so when we get it we analyse and seem to think really negative. I think if you are wth a good partner then why would you not want to be with them? Especially if they want the same as you a house,marriage, kids etc then why not? That’s what I tell myself when I’m anxious. I also tell myself,how do you think people who have been in a relatoonshop/ marriage for years and years? They’ve probably felt those feelings and had those thoughts but they’ve got through it so it is possible. Unfortunately we cannot live in the early stages of a relationship when everything feels ‘so right’ and exciting. As much as I would love to it is not possible 🙁

      I haven’t told my boyfriend much. I have said to him I worry about the future etc but he doesn’t know to what extent. But he knows I’m a worrier and I have general anxiety disorder and go to regular therapy sessions so he probably has a feeling! If he asks just be honest but just make sure you tell him it’s not about him and it’s all in your head. Don’t give up! I assure you it will get better. Me and you are in the same boat. I wish you all the best!!

      • Scared

        I told mine that it was this transition between being almost a couple to being an actual couple. That may really be the problem. I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I’m just kidding myself and that I’m only holding on because I don’t want to be alone.

  • Scared

    Thank you for this post, Sheryl. I am always afraid of making a mistake
    Major life decisions are horrifying, and because a significant other is such an important part of your life, I’m so afraid I’m not making the right choice. He is great in almost every way, and he’s simply a good person at heart. But I don’t feel anything anymore. And I keep thinking, “You can’t make yourself love someone.” And it makes me sad that I may not be able to make him the one. I just feel like I’m stringing him along and I feel so horrible for it. I just want this feeling to go away and be relaxed with loving ones for him that I feel like I had before, but now I’m not so sure if it was that or just the fact that I was so happy someone decent liked me. I’m so torn about it all I feel like my head could explode. It’s been almost 7 months.

    • Scared

      I hear all these things about letting people go that you don’t love and how it’s not fair to them, that they should be able to find someone who loves them just as much. And how you’re prone to cheating in relationships. And how things just aren’t meant to be sometimes. I don’t know. It’s all so exhausting.
      I used to love music so much, but I can’t even listen to it much anymore without a song making me have anxious thoughts. Isn’t that the silliest thing ever?

  • Angela

    Hi Scared
    It wasnt that long ago when i felt like you are feeling. I love music so much and i also couldnt enjoy my favourite songs. I couldnt stand noise and music. I felt so isolated, so guilty that i was stringing my boyfriend at the time along. I believed my ego. If you feel miserable you must leave and run away from your relationship. Doing Sheryls work was the best thing I have ever done in my life. Still learning about myself and anxiety. Its a transition a journey thats so worth it. Keep going!
    Things will get better for you
    Take care
    Angela xo

  • Angela

    Your not alone, I feel your frustrations..

    • Han

      Hi,

      Have you done the e-course?? I want to do it but I’m worried of doing it in case it doesn’t have an effect on me. I think I am finally passing through the anxiety but o know it will never fully go away. How did it help you? I would love to hear!!

  • Angela

    Hi Han,
    Yes ive done the wedding ecourse and also the trust yourself course. When i started my relationship i was faced with debilitating anxiety, it was scary but then i found sheryl and she helped me with why i was feeling miserable that it was normal to feel this way. I am much better now you have to keep going and it will get easier.
    Do the course its really helpful and worth it.
    Good luck

  • Carry

    Hi there 🙂
    I was just wondering if it would be possible to get some advice.
    I am 21 and recently just want on a trip to Nova Scotia with my bf and I guess you could say fell in love with it there by the first night, I could already see my self living there and going to the mall there and the following days just wanted to buy a house already lol but when we started actually going to house viewings I started to get really anxious was second guessing myself … Because of my family I am very close to my family and they are my best friends and I love them to death but other then them I have no problem leaving where I am now witch is a 22 hour drive from Nova Scotia:/ now I feel torn and I’m worried of making a wrong choice and a huge mistake …. What do you think I should do ?

    • Carry

      Because I personally just feel a huge urge to just leave here and get away , but now In the back of my head I’m wondering am I just running away ? Do I just want something new ? But when I was in Nova Scotia I could see myself actually having a life there