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5 TED Talks to help students overcome their fear of failure

fear of failure
Elizabeth Gilbert's follow-up to "Eat, Pray, Love" may have "bombed", but that didn't stop her from writing her next book –– which was very well received. Source: Dave Kotinsky / Getty Images / AFP

Tightened stomachs and sweaty palms are common in classrooms all over the world. Ask any international or domestic student when they have struggled with their fear of failure, and they might name several occurrences.

Some fear missing out on important information in classes or lectures, anticipating it will strongly affect their test scores. Others fear test day, feeling they are underprepared. The rest dread result day, thinking only disappointment awaits.

All of this is common. We live in a society that places a heavy emphasis on performance, perfection and achievement. Parents are never shy in expressing their high expectations, neither are the distant relatives you see once a year at family gatherings. 

How can you overcome your fear of failure?

It’s important to note that overcoming the fear of failure doesn’t mean forcing yourself to lose genuine interest. It means viewing struggles as opportunities and understanding but not obsessing over the negative consequences associated with underachieving. With the right mindset, anyone can cut the strings of the unseen puppet master wreaking havoc in theirs heads. 

Mistakes are integral to the learning process. Yes, brilliant minds are often the most anxious souls; however, an academic journey should be reminisced positively, especially if yours is in a new country.

If your concerns are too overwhelming, remember what Thomas Edison famously said: “I have not failed 10,000 times — I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

Now, imagine if he had succumbed to fear of failure and where our world would be if he had not innovated the light bulb or advanced telephones.

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive pep talk to realise your potential instead of limiting it, here are five TED Talks that echo Edison’s views in various ways:

Thomas Curran: Our dangerous obsession with perfectionism is getting worse 

“In my time studying perfectionism, I’ve seen limited evidence that perfectionists are more successful.”

Thomas Curran is a social psychologist who studies the personality characteristic of perfectionism and the role it can play in diminishing mental health. In this talk, he explains the danger of young people being too preoccupied with attaining the perfect life and lifestyle.

Dr. Raphael Rose: How fear cultivates resilience

“Resilience means you face life’s stressors and challenges, and you bounce back and recover. In doing so, you can enrich your life.”

In this talk, Dr. Raphael Rose explains his research for NASA — how leaning into trials and setbacks builds the emotional callouses that help us value what’s good in life. He even notes that welcoming stress can help us become more resilient.

Astro Teller: The unexpected benefit of celebrating failure

“Enthusiastic scepticism is not the enemy of boundless optimism. It’s optimism’s perfect partner.”

Here, Astro Teller — the head of X — describes leading a “moonshot factory,” where his team identifies huge problems in the world before finding or proposing a radical solution for solving them. He then explains how X nurtures its staff to feel comfortable working on big, risky projects. 

Elizabeth Gilbert: Success, failure and the drive to keep creating 

“I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego.”

Around 20 years before Elizabeth Gilbert achieved success with “Eat, Pray, Love,” she was a diner waitress who spent six long years trying to get published. In this TEDTalk, she explains her journey, how acknowledging this period helped her accept the failure of her runaway hit’s follow-up, and why it didn’t stop her from writing another book after that — which was very well received.

Kathryn Schulz: Don’t regret regret

“We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them.”

Pulitzer Prize-winner Kathryn Schulz aptly used tattoos as an example when discussing the art and importance of making peace with regret. She mentioned hers and, of course, Johnny Depp’s. Schulz then explains how we can use our regrets as reminders that we can and always should do better.