Is Fear of Failure Holding you Back?

If I think back to roughly seven years ago, my barely-teenage self would have had Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ on repeat while walking home. The famous lyric, ‘When you try your best but you don’t succeed,’ made a mark on my adolescent mind back then and I guess it has never really left. I used to wake up with the thought of it, write it down and sing it out whenever I had the opportunity.

When the world around you tries to make believe that you aren’t good enough and don’t try hard enough, the worry that you’re failing starts to stick.

Recently, I have found myself spiralling back down into the toxic circle of conformity and self-pressure. Often new adventures and new life phases come with new challenges. These challenges are unfamiliar and can seem impossible to overcome. Thirteen-year-old me pops into my head, repeating ‘when you try your best but you don’t succeed…’ for some kind of comfort.

But now, older and wiser (or so I like to think), I know there is more to success than other people’s opinions and perception of the word itself. The question I ask myself now is – when will the fear of failure become too real? When will the consequence become not trying at all?

In today’s busy, fast-paced world, failure is often deemed unacceptable. We are encouraged to create and innovate but also to avoid making mistakes or ‘wasting’ resources like time or money. Surely, the only real failure in life is when you stop trying. When the fear of failure takes control.

If you haven’t heard this recently, let me be the one to remind you:

We were not made to be perfect. We were not made to be great at everything we attempt.

As crazy as it sounds, fear and failure are not your enemies. The fear is a biological response that is triggered by your brain when it perceives a threat in your environment. Your brain then makes a decision based on this perceived threat, regardless of whether or not it actually is one. The good news is that it is then up to you to decide whether to let it affect you.

Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from achieving and accomplishing for yourself. There is no need to achieve in order to please other people. In fact, the biggest success is to try solemnly for yourself and nobody else.

Women Leaders in Global Health Conference 2018

The Women Leaders in Global Health Conference was born from frustration many women working in global health felt when seeing the lack of women and diverse leadership in their field.

Women make up 70% of global health force but hold just 30% of leadership positions, and many felt the urge to direct an international spotlight on the matter.

This urge became a reality in October 2017 with the 1st WLGH Conference, hosted at Stanford University.

This year, the 2nd Conference was hosted in the UK by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Longer and richer in content, there were 2 days of panel discussions and vibrant exchange among women – and men – who work in different areas of global health.

Credit: @drawingchange

One of the main figures of this year’s conference was the former Minister of Health of Peru, Dr Patty J. Garcia. Patty is a scientist and an expert in Public Health who decided to take a new leadership position when the Prime Minister of Peru, Pedro P. Kuczynski, called her to offer her one of the most important roles in the country.

She worked within the government of Peru from July 2016 to September 2017, achieving important public health goals such as access to contraceptives for adolescent girls, availability of emergency contraception and rise in vaccination coverage.

Credit: Giorgia Dalla Libera Marchiori

She said that she would have never imagined she would be involved in politics, and even less to become a minister, but that “we need to take opportunities as women”. She took the lead and decided she would use her position to make the changes Peru needed.

Sometimes you are invited to the table and you just have to sit down and get to work. Most of the time, however, you need to open your folding chair and make space for yourself at the table. If no one makes space for your folding chair – “you sit on the table”, suggests Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, Chief Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.

Women have great expertise, but too often don’t believe in themselves, because the patriarchal society we live in has taught us to look down, apologize and not be a ‘bi**ch’. Women and men need to rethink gender roles and move towards an equal society, where gender, place of birth, sexual orientation or disability will not count anymore, only competence will. 

Around 100 speakers participated in this year’s conference, bringing different perspectives which animated the discussion in so many ways. Dr Ola Abu Alghaib, Director of Global Influencing and Research at Leonard Cheshire Disability, told the audience of her personal experience with disability and finding her leadership role as a person with disability.

Her life is a proof of resilience. She has achieved what she wanted, including doing a job she is passionate about and having her own family. Many told her that as a disabled woman she would not be able to reach those goals, but she decided early on to lead her life in the direction she wanted. Women with disabilities need to be part of the conversation, Ola says, because there is no equity if we, as women, are the first to exclude some of us from the running.

Every woman can be a leader.

This is the philosophy behind one of the best universities in the African continent, the Ahfad University in Sudan. Professor Nafisa M. Bedri explained how their university, founded originally as a girls school by her grandfather, Babiker Bedri, aims to form future women leaders in Sudan.

Investing in women’s education and shaping women’s roles in society is challenging, because of cultural and religious beliefs, but the benefits are tangible and impact our entire society. 

One concept shared loudly and proudly at the end of this gathering was well summarized by Ayoade: “my ceiling has to be your floor”. This means that whatever we do, it has to create better opportunities and a world free from inequities for the generations to come, for all the girls who are dreaming big and should never have their wings cut off.

See you all next year in Rwanda for WLGH 3.0!

In the meantime, find your opportunity to become a leader in your group, community, work place, country. Don’t wait, act. And while doing it, “ensure that your significant other (whether a woman or a man) is a feminist” – Professor Sarah Hawkes, Co-Director of Global Health 50/50.