Ever since I was younger I’ve had a fear of failing. It wasn’t necessarily the failure itself but the associated humiliation that I anticipated. There was never a time where I was utterly humiliated, no terrible episode of my past. I guess if nothing else it stemmed from having a very biting family that grew up on the principles of embarrassment and punishment as deterrents for failure. It wasn’t harsh, not really, but it was constant.
I have an older sibling that grew up with the true Asian American identity crisis — his solution was to abandon all things lame and assimilate as best as possible into the expectations of a cool “normal” kid. Any failures in his eyes were tremendously worse because it highlighted not the failures of a child but the failures of an Asian foreign child.
Those same practices set the parameters of social behavior in my childhood.
His pain became the backbone for the rest of our fear of humiliation
Whether conscious or not there was always an underlining fear of being weird. Failure was a representation of all the things wrong with us.
As I grew up, this behavior dynamic lost its history and warped into an understanding that any form of failure would be ruthlessly picked apart by our family. The parents didn’t quite understand the growth of this behavior, it stemmed from a child who spoke English with his younger sister and then spread to conversation only in English amongst the younger generation. Whatever problems the parents could have had were closed behind a language barrier they didn’t know existed. We were alone in a world that regarded all of our actions under a microscope.
My childhood trauma stayed with me as I grew older
I remember the first person I ever liked. They were a part of a group of friends I’d leaned into and although we never spoke too often (I was too afraid to) we ran into each other often. I knew they liked my friend but it’s not like I spoke to them about it.
Eventually we ended up hanging out together, a result of our mixed friend groups. Through this friendship I learned that they finally got the courage to ask my friend out and was promptly turned down. The next day they were messaging me over MSN messenger.
I can’t say whether or not this was because they were rejected or not but it certainly felt that way. Things never went anywhere between the two of us, even if there was interest there was always the idea that it was only because I was either a second choice or a step in to get to my friend.
This self doubt caused me to not want to try at all
There are areas in my life where I’d fall behind my peers. I was never bad at schooling or my work but I was always aware I wasn’t the best. Reflecting on my academic career I noticed that I never actually downright bad at anything but that a lot of my efforts were hindered by the idea that if I’m not amazing at it I shouldn’t try at all. I was floating by instead of putting in the effort of my peers but it wasn’t because I couldn’t, it was because I just didn’t. If I really tried I could’ve done all the readings, asked more questions when I was confused, consulted help that was available to me. Instead, I was afraid that putting in the effort and failing was worse than not caring and not doing the best I could be.
It’s a form of imposter syndrome
But it comes from a deep rooted fear of being seen as trying. Showing that something doesn’t come easy breathes its own trauma. In my early twenties it translated into a full blown self esteem issue. I didn’t get panic attacks but that’s more luck than an ability to overcome anxiety. My lack of success bred more anxiety about succeeding and my fears of failure morphed into an understanding that I just wasn’t deserving of success.
I met someone in my early twenties that I vibed really well with. My first partner entered a relationship with someone who always questioned whether or not they were deserving of being together. I’d grown up successfully convincing people I wasn’t a complete failure so most people didn’t see that I was afraid. I didn’t talk about it. My personality was structured around sarcasm and a desire to exit all uncomfortable situations. If I made things less serious they were less likely to hurt me.
Our relationship didn’t end on a bad note but I never found out if they understood I was afraid to give up pieces of myself because I wasn’t sure they were worth receiving.
I’m still learning to be okay with myself
And that’ll always happen. My constant reminder is that regardless of whether or not I fail it’s not going to result in the end of the world. Failure is normal and it just means you pick yourself up and move on. Trying doesn’t lead to anything except success or failure. That burning fear of humiliation is all in your head. No one is going to sit on the street and point and laugh because of anything I do. And if it somehow happens it shouldn’t stop me from holding my head high and moving forward.