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  • Writer's pictureGayle Scroggs

Why You Must Dare to Fail

By Gayle Scroggs, PhD, PCC

Originally published in the ABD Survival Guide.


When did you last dare to try something you might fail at?


For me it was late January—when I joined our local CrossFit gym.


CrossFit seemed like a big stretch for someone used to mere walking, but when my daughter Sara incentivized it, I took the bait.


A rowing machine won't get anyone trembling with fear of failure. But when was the last time you hoisted a barbell? How about planks and pushups? As CrossFit regulars swung themselves up on overhead bars, I watched in awe, unsure of what I had just signed up for.


Watching the more fit folks streak past me at first could have led me to quit. But my trainer scaled things down for me, while everyone encouraged me to just keep at it. No smugness. No comparisons.


What a valuable lesson they offered me—one seldom offered in school and work environments. All too often we judge ourselves and get judged on how well we perform before we've had a chance to develop our potential.


What about you? Do you tend to set the bar too high, literally and figuratively, with new challenges? Do you place it at the expert level (often the most salient)? Then when you don't clear it, do you give up? Or worse, do you let fear of failure keep you from taking a shot in the first place?  Fear of failure provokes self-limiting doubts—the kind that define impostor syndrome. This pernicious condition hits doctoral students especially hard, with drastic impacts on academic progress and career choices.


When was the last time you felt like giving up on your dissertation? Doubted your ability to finish? Felt like a fraud around other students and faculty?


If you find yourself struggling with negative feedback on your latest draft while congratulating your peers who just defended their dissertations, it's easy to forget your own strengths. You start wondering if you really have what it takes to finish.


Impostorism can affect post-graduation goals as well. Collet and Avelis found it outranked all other factors in explaining why women downshifted goals away from research institutions and toward teaching institutions—especially in the humanities and social sciences.


What makes us so vulnerable to the impostor syndrome?


Who gets to witness the inner doubts or years of struggle others undergo on their way up the ladder?  Without that awareness, you feel like a fraud next to established folks who now make it look easy. You wonder when you'll be found out as inadequate, an inferior being let in by mistake. Sure, your first draft might look dismal next to the published articles and dissertations you have read. But it would likely hold up well next to first drafts by other ABDs.


Do you think the impostor syndrome only hits the untalented or uninitiated? Nope. High achievers are the most likely succumb to it, as illustrated by this remark by celebrated novelist and poet Maya Angelou:


"I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out."


If you've ever felt any of the symptoms of the impostor syndrome, don't miss our expert strategies for overcoming it in the next article, "Stop feeling like a fraud: 5 expert tips to conquer your ABD impostor syndrome." It's time for you to enjoy your learning and celebrate your successes. 


Here's to your success!


P.S. I can now hold a plank for over 60 seconds. :)



Words from the Wise on Self-Doubt and Vulnerability


"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." ~ Bertrand Russell


"Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt." ~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure


"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced." ~ Vincent Van Gogh


"I don't believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me." ~ Tennessee Williams


"Every album, I'm worried that I'm a dork and a fraud--'What if I can't sing anymore?' then I stop thinking and start playing guitar, and I realize that it's okay to suck, and move forward." ~ Pink


Video pick:  "The Power of Vulnerability," by Brené Brown’s viral TED Talk

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