Fear of Failure

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I have a friend who is going deaf. A couple of weeks ago she was invited to attend some ASL practice sessions so she could begin to learn the language she will eventually need in order to communicate effectively. At first she declined. When I asked her why, she said she was afraid to fail.

I’m sure we all understand that feeling—the one of fear grimacing menacingly in our faces and squashing all confidence with its big steel-toed boot. Now, a modest man knows his limitations, so sometimes it’s warranted, but more often than not, if we just forge ahead, our abilities may exceed our expectations. With full confidence in her abilities—after all, it’s much easier to have confidence in someone other than oneself—I loosely recited a quote I had recently read: The only sure way to fail is simply to not try.

Having been a Career Step student myself a number of years ago, I think it’s safe to say that, at one time or another, almost all students experience a fear of failure. Where might you face this fear on your journey to working in the healthcare documentation field? How about Clinic Notes, Advanced Acute Care Block 5, the final exam (and any needed retakes), and the search for employment? Do any of these make you shudder? Did your left eye start to twitch as you read through that list?

Rest assured, you are not alone. Even as a seasoned MT, fear of failure rears its ugly head every now and then as the industry changes and new skills have to be learned, as RMT and CMT credentials take on a broader scope and morph into RHDS and CHDS credentials, as technology and processes and equipment that is comfortable and reliable becomes antiquated and obsolete. 

If the only sure way to fail is simply to not try, then what is the only sure way to succeed? To keep on trying. And trying. And trying. As written so eloquently by the doctor of all doctors, Dr. Seuss: “Kid, you’ll move mountains! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!” Or if not today, then tomorrow…or the day after…but your day will never come if you quit trying!

Does that mean we will all succeed at every challenge we face as long as we keep trying? Not to put a damper on the mood, but no. By the same token, however, we won’t all fail at everything either and that alone is motivation enough to keep on trying, because even if you’re sure you’re going to fail, you’ll sometimes surprise yourself and succeed; maybe not the first time or the second time or even the fifth time, but maybe the sixth or seventh or eighth time (except when it comes to the final exam as that particular hurdle has a third-time’s-the-charm rule.

Go into each challenge understanding that you might need to try again, and don’t beat yourself up if that turns out to be the case. There’s a reason you can resubmit a report or a unit test or attempt the final exam multiple times or reapply at a company after a set waiting period (usually 3-6 months). It’s because a failed attempt doesn’t make you a failure; it just means you need to try again with a bit more knowledge and skill, both of which come with practice. So dust yourself off whenever you fall, ask for help if you’re having a hard time getting back up, and move some mountains!

My friend understands. The other day she walked up to me and put her right arm in the air. Directing her hand down toward her head, she then spread her ‘A’ hand into a ‘5’ hand and said, “Lamp. It means lamp.”

- Heather Garrett
Skills Assessment Team


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