Dealing with Fear of Failure and Fear of Success

Summary: Sathi answers the question, “How does one deal with fear of failure and fear of success?” There is a nice discussion back and forth between the meditators and Sathi. Where does the fear reside, past, present, or future? How can we build our self-confidence to overcome these fears?

[singing bowl signaling the end of meditation]

Any questions or suggestions for discussion?

[meditator] Bhante, this culture here inculcates perfection. Can you speak to fear of failure and fear of success?

[Sathi] Let me ask you a question. Is fear positive or negative? Okay, let’s raise hands if it is positive. Okay, raise hands who thinks it’s negative.

[meditator] Depending on the type of fear maybe?

[Sathi] There are two types of fear, one type we do not want to experience. But, the other type of fear, we respect. Because we think that fear is protecting us and helping us to survive. But, initially fear is not a pleasant feeling. That’s why, as a mindful person, we are trying to overcome the fear. Not avoid. We are practicing to overcome the fear. So, the question is fear of failing and fear of success. There is another important side to understand about this fear.

We divide time into three portions, mainly two, but, three portions: past, present, and the future. If we look at the past and the future, where does fear exist? In the present and in the future. Fear does not exist in the past What is the reason for this? The reason is, when something move on to the past, that has already happened, and we know what happened. Therefore, we do not have fear on something that is past. But, based on some experience in the past, you may not want to repeat that in the future. Then, fear is still existing in the future, but experiencing in the present. That is a good indication to us, to understand, that it is not a realistic experience. It is not. It is based on unknowns or not knowing. Since the past is already past and it is known, fear does not exist in the past. But, fear of failure. If you think about the fear of not wanting to be a failure.

What is behind it? Expectations of yourself and there are a few things but I would say mainly lack of confidence.

[meditator] Self-doubt, insecurities. Maybe even a wound. Like a logical to you that inhibited you from moving forward in confidence.

[Sathi] Yes, we can throw all of those things together into the category of lack of confidence. Lack of confidence can happen due to many reasons. If you have confidence, then you would not have self-doubt. And, you would not have fear because you will know exactly, “Okay, I can do it.”

[meditator] And that maybe helps with success because if you have confidence gives the ability to more success. So, the question turns into “Where is the lack of confidence come to build a lack of fear and the stability for success?”

[Sathi] Yes, the question is “How can I gain confidence. How can I develop confidence?” Or, “How can I earn the confidence?” That would be the practice.

[meditator] Which is something like self-love.

[Sathi] Hm, hmm. Let’s go step by step to see this. Let me give you an example. If you haven’t done any gardening. But, you still want to do gardening. You haven’t done any gardening before. What do you do? These day I’m sure everybody looks at YouTube [laughing]. But, you would seek knowledge from somewhere. You would ask somebody. Who are you asking? Are you asking somebody you do not trust? Or, are you asking somebody that you trust? If you are asking somebody that you cannot trust, then again, you do not have confidence from the advice from that person. You have confidence from the person you if you think that this person knows what to do. If this person has done gardening before. Then, you would take that advice serious and follow it.

Now think. Somebody asks you a question on something you have been doing for many many years.
When that person asks you that question, you know that while you are hearing the question you know what this person needs, what the background of this person, what the background of the question, and you would know the answer and also you would know where this person will fail.

That’s the nature of an experienced person. As an experienced person you would have a clear understanding of the question and the person who is asking the question (through the question). Then, as an experienced person, you would give advice, to that person to follow.

Think, if you are on the other side, then you are going to be totally different. Then you don’t have that big picture. Equal to that experience you can apply this to anything in your life. Wherever you don’t have experience then you would have self-doubt. If you don’t have anyone to ask questions, then the self-doubt is arising and you don’t know how to do it. Now the practice would be, knowing what you don’t know. “Okay, I don’t know this.” Knowing about your not knowing is very important. And also, knowing what you do know. “Oh, this is clear, I know only this part. I know only this part. Where should I get help?” Focusing on that getting help.

Now, following instructions, and knowing the ability of following the instructions, will slowly give you confidence. Now think about data you don’t know. You haven’t done something before. If you are believing the sources of the information you are gathering, then you can follow those instructions. By knowing that by the end you know you’ll be successful with this. Now this example, when you are assembling furniture. Just think, you just take that guideline and open it up and following it step-by-step. All the sudden you notice, “Oh, okay, where does this extra nut go?” Then you realize “Okay, I have missed the guideline.” And you go back and try to fix it. But, at the beginning, where did you gain confidence to accomplish this project? That guideline. You are trusting the guideline. Sometime you may find some incorrect guidelines. And, they have an extra or they don’t have this particular thing. And you would blame the guideline. But, only after you became master for this.

Now, this fear of failing. Fear of failing comes with another trouble. The desire to be successful. But, as long as that desire is there that desire makes you blind. Then you are having a difficult time, beating yourself up. Just think about you become the most critical person of yourself. You don’t see your success. You don’t see what you have accomplished. And we only see what we haven’t finished yet. We see sometimes what we have to gain. Normally, most people don’t see what they have done or accomplished do far. That self-criticism
is there.

That desire to be accomplished makes you blind because when something you don’t see, you only see into the future, what you haven’t accomplished yet in your life. You are only focusing on that part. Eventually that will become a habit. When that nature becomes a habit, we are in trouble. We don’t know how to protect ourselves from it. That can be the main reason for the self-doubt. Because you are starting to become a person who blames yourself. You do not see what you have gained or where you have been successful. Only what you haven’t accomplished yet and end up by blaming yourself. That will build up the fear. So, that is one of the extreme points.

But a mindful person, before you go there, you will stop yourself and recognize what you have done so far and what you have accomplished. Once Buddha mentioned, If you think that you cannot do something first find someone who can do it. Then, compare yourself to that person. “How can I become that person?” That means gain the knowledge or skill. He was mentioning that once when he was visiting one of the great masters, by seeing what the master could do he eventually thought, “I won’t be able to do the things that this master is doing.” Then, he started to think, “I’m a human being, as he is.” And I have accomplished the education, equal to this person. I have a full physical body and I have energy so I can train myself to do what this person can do.” By seeing another person’s example, then you can say, “Oh, I can do that.” Then, gain the knowledge/skills and do it. The second way, If you cannot find anyone around you, think of someone who has done this in the past, or think about somebody who is doing it far away. Then, learn about that person. “Okay, if that person can do it, I can do it.” Number three, if you cannot find anybody who has done it, or is doing it, then think, “What are the things that I can collect in order to accomplish this? Then, I can be the first person.” In courage, you gain what others haven’t gained yet. This will encourage you to accomplish or fulfill that. If you become such a person, self-doubt
will not exist anymore.

So, the other part of the question is, Fear of Success. I would say this would be the same side of the question.

But, there is another thing we need to understand. Again, this is also part of the future. This happens to you when you don’t see what you have successfully done already. Think of the person you are now. Compare yourself to 10 years before, 20 years before, 30 years before Think of who you have become in thirty years. Once you look at that you can say, “Am I the same person?” How have I changed? Have I been successful? Then, if you can do that, definitely you will be successful. even in the future. This fear is related to the future is always troubling. The reason is, it makes you blind. It won’t give you space to think or see what you have become or done. So that is why…

[meditator] So, you are not present.

[Sathi] Exactly, yeah. You are not living in the present. But, you are having this experience in the present, but this is all in the future.

[meditator] So, you are not able to make any sort of change to the future.

[Sathi] Yes. That is why, as a mindful person, you are trying to focus and bring it back to you saying “Now, what should I do now in order to become that person?” Just think, if you are hiking, you see the top of the hill. But always you have to focus on the footstep you are taking right now. Then, eventually you will get there.

[meditator]And then my friend told me that even when you get there, a cloud will come, and when you are in the cloud all the sudden you’ll look and you are at the bottom of the hill again. So, maybe that’s

[Sathi] Because you are always looking at the top of the hill. [laughing] [meditator] Do you ever get to the top?

[Sathi]The reason is, we don’t see where we are. That is the trouble. We always are looking away from us [the present moment]. You know there is a wonderful saying in Sri Lankan culture. Underneath the lighting tower it is always dark. It is always because you are seeing the outside. You keep this unhappiness.

[meditator] Which is beautiful because

[Sathi] It is supposed to be beautiful [laughing] [meditator] Because it is true, we always have the happiness and the sadness. So, this santosha (contentment) – It’s like you said, the success and the failure who is determining what is success and what is failure. And why, when you are just content, and when you know you are going to the top of the mountain, you come back down, you go up, you go down, the light of the tower is always dark, then you know that you find the peace in the contentment. Or, something like that, maybe. Because otherwise the light and the dark, you know, that’s Life.

[Sathi] I hope I answered your question. Any other thoughts? So, gain the confidence.

[meditator] I was wondering with that statement, is it I think that can also be a stressful statement. Is it, uncover the confidence? Is it stop feeling doubt? Like a way to let confidence emerge rather than it is something that you have to go get or acquire. Like you have to acquire success if you don’t have it, you have to go get it. If you have to go get it, then doubt wants to come right back in and says, “Oh, how are you going to get it?” and it starts the cycle all over again? So, where is that access to the inner confidence to make it a little more gentle, less grasping. Because I hear grasping a little bit and desire and craving of “I need to go get me some more confidence.”

[Sathi] Well yes. That’s a very good question. Now, both have to be done. Which is Let me go back to my previous example of making a vegetable garden. Okay? Then, you start to do it. And, while you are doing it you know, “okay, I have this challenge to do. Now, how do I do it?” Then, you are realizing I need to learn how to overcome this challenge. And then, at that point you are realizing this is something I don’t know. This is what I have to learn.

[meditator] And so you are gathering evidence. I think this confidence thing is the story we are putting out here. But rarely in the moment… I have to think about that.

[another meditator] Because what he is saying is your are gaining skills, one by one that you break it down. You need these little things to build that overall confidence. Right?

[Sathi] Yup.

[Another meditator] But, I think he is also saying, we have to go back and “Gee, what did you do ten years ago, you weren’t successful before and look at the past and take it forward.

[Another meditator] And, I’m not just saying for me “How do I build this confidence?” But, I’m saying for the group, when we talk about confidence, it generally takes a bigger size. When we talk about what we are doing in the moment, we generally don’t say, “Oh, I don’t have any confidence to do this.” It’s used in story I think more than… I need to take it back to me…. I use it more in story, then in what is actually happening.

[Another mediator] Yes true. Our own narratives.

[Meditator] Yes, that is what I am saying. And when we are saying, because we are so much we are saying “Go get, we need to go get it.” It’s a smaller scale, you don’t start at the top, you just go from here. So, as a mindful person you can see those steps. That’s the avenue. That’s the confidence.

[Another meditator] And accept. Where it is not always, you know, I want to be the president of this organization, but maybe I need to start by actually being the best cleaner of this building, or the best front desk person, or the best me I can be. Whatever that looks like. And then, the confidence builds itself.

[Another meditator] You bring up an interesting, kind of a different point about the narrative. You know. those stories you are telling yourself. It’s kind of what you are saying, right? That that is where the non-confidence is coming from and that could be a million things you telling yourself all these stories and you saying, break it down, each story.

[Sathi] Well, yes. Rather than jumping back, look at the story for what it is. What is happening? What can I do? Is there anything I can do? Why is is really important right now to me? Just think about this, when we are on the negative path, you always hear the negative stories. When we are on the positive path we only see the positive stories. Neither is healthy. We think seeing all the positive stories is good. It is not. It is not realistic. We have to have an ability to question these stories. “What is this? What should I do? Why am I thinking this right now?” There, it will help you catch yourself. What do you want to prove? If you want to prove something, we are trying to prove that bringing that story in our head and playing it again and again that is telling ourself something. So, we have to ask ourselves, “What am I trying to prove here?” “What am I trying to tell myself?”

[meditator] That word is ‘discernment’.

[Sathi – laughing] Yes, discernment.

[meditator] That goes with the ‘middle way’ of neither extreme of all negative and all positive discernment.

[Sathi] That’s the realistic! Well, let’s continue this with tea or whatever. I think we have hot water all ready. Thank you very much for being here.

Recorded on June 6, 2019 at Triple Gem of the North temple in Chaska, Minnesota.

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