Fear of failure

When I was a student, I had an extreme fear of failure.

During the first two years in university, I was doing ok, but from there on things started to go downhill. Surrounded by people who seemed to live for their future job as physiotherapists, all I could think was how differently I felt. While they talked about studying in the library and reading extra materials, I became president of a student union and filled my days with non-curricular activities.

As the months passed by, it seemed as if I was falling behind my peers more and more. By the time the exams came around, I felt so terrified of failing, that I often ended up not taking the test. Say what?! Yup, I figured that if I didn’t go, I couldn’t fail. Instead I hoped to retake the tests in the Summer time. (in Belgium students get a second try)

Of course the outside world didn’t know what was going on inside of me, which resulted in the occasional taunt, that pushed me even deeper.

It became so bad, that I would enter the classroom to take the exam and leave before the tests were handed out.

I paid dearly for my fears: it took me an additional 2 years to graduate university.

The night before my final exam was a disaster. Instead of sleeping, I cried and threw up. Jelger sat by my side, telling me I could do it. On my way to the professor, the thought of running away and not graduating raced through my mind. Only this time, I didn’t cave. After all those years of failing, I knew it was time to face my fears.

I entered the examination room looking like a wet, hot mess: puffy eyes from being up all night, wiping away the last of my tears. I was terrified, but I took the oral exam, answering the professor’s questions on the spot. And unlike all the scenarios in my head, I passed. I officially graduated with a master’s degree in physiotherapy and rehabilitation sciences.

Something had changed that day. I had proven myself wrong in that whatever my imagination told me, it could never justify giving up everything I worked for. The fear only existed in my mind. I had allowed the fear to get a hold of me. Now, years later, I can tell you fear hasn’t been able to paralyze me anymore. At least, not that badly. Sure, there are moments when I’m scared and want to run for the hills, and of course I still dare crying when it all seems too much to handle. But I also remember that fear can only exist, if I allow it to.

So I face the things that scare me most, and do them anyways. They turn out to be my greatest accomplishments.

Failure doesn’t exist. Only giving up.


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