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June 22, 2016

The Fear of Failure Demon

The Fear of Failure Demon

WILDCAT WEDNESDAY – This is a preview of a profile I’m posting next Wednesday of an NU graduate who used to work as a journalist and is now an aviator who specializes in anti-submarine warfare. The line that struck me most was the one below because of how it related to a conversation I was having with a player this week. I was telling him about all the pressure I put on myself even when things were going well. My subject – to be revealed next week – said, “I put an enormous amount of internal pressure on myself to succeed, and I couldn’t really cope with my perceived failures.”

The old fear of failure lurks, and not enough people are honest about their moments of weakness. We spend too much time hiding the truth about this crippling fear because we don’t want anyone to know. There aren’t enough people like me who know it and can see it a mile away and then find the right time, place, moment to approach the subject. All too often it is simply a matter of identifying a person afflicted by this disease, and finding the right time and place to address it as honestly as possible. And going to a shrink doesn’t do it. I tried (a sports shrink). An honest, genuine conversation with someone who’s been there and is not a blood relative – this is always your best bet. I was telling the player how disappointed I was with myself for letting my poor free throw shooting and my obsession with all the things I did wrong – how I was never doing enough in my mind –affect my career, and more importantly, my self-image, my perceived failures.

And now I read this – about a great sportswriter at NU who said that writing was too much pressure, but somehow flying planes in war zones was not. It is incredible what the mind can do to the body and soul. I told the player that I was so upset with myself years after missing so many free throws and after being so hard on myself because I then saw my mother dealing with Alzheimer’s. I saw her courage and grace. And I saw that I had it too, around the time I saw men and women my age losing their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I looked back a short distance and just shook my head at myself and how I was freaking out about making a 15-foot shot with no one in front of me? Because I was afraid to miss. I was afraid to not be perfect. I was afraid to fail. In the meantime, Danielle Green, a Notre Dame player I played with, enlisted in the US Army after 9/11, and ended up losing her arm in Afghanistan. And I was worried for years about my performance in Big Ten play?

It’s also incredible to witness the power of a change in mindset combined with a sense of purpose. The subject of my story endured a tremendous amount of self-doubt, depression and fear of failing at his passion. What’s crazy is that he overcame it even after he was basically rejected the first time he wanted to enter the US Armed Forces. After reaching a new low, he fought to get in after a major first hurdle – he fought mentally, physically, emotionally – to prove his worth, to challenge himself more, to show what kind of man he could be. He identified his fear of failure and decided enough was enough. He grabbed it, turned it around, drove it into the direction he wanted to go in, and he did not rest until he got there.