Our Greatest Fear Is Looking Bad in the Eyes of Others
Common wisdom suggests that the fear of failure prevents many people from taking the initiative to try new things and taking on assignments beyond their comfort zone. In truth, it isn’t failure that scares us the most. What really haunts us is the prospect of being seen as a failure.
We know too well that failure can make us look ridiculous. We can easily visualize the prospect of putting our mistakes on public display. Flubbing a speech, dropping a pass, sending an email with an inappropriate word, walking into the wrong meeting, asking a question that has already been asked. Such mistakes give us fodder for upcoming nightmares.
Nothing prevents us from taking risks more than the fear of looking foolish. The very idea of looking stupid undermines our confidence and drives us to avoid any situation where we might be seen as a failure. The fear of looking foolish prevents us from running marathons, making speeches, painting pictures, pursuing jobs. Our anxiety over potentially looking stupid influences more choices than anyone will ever know.
The idea of moving toward situations where you might look foolish won’t prevent your worst nightmare, but doing so allows you to care less and less about what others think of you.
When inevitably you find yourself in an awkward moment, acknowledging the mistake and finding the humor in your performance robs any audience of the negative power to judge you harshly. In fact, the sooner you point out your humiliation, the less attention others will give it. Strangely enough, we give higher marks for character to those people who self-deprecate and make fun of themselves before we do.
The playwright Arthur Miller once said that the best work we do is on the verge of embarrassing us, always. The fear of looking bad can never be permanently conquered or fully vanquished. We all have to live with the prospect of displaying our stupidity. The best among us lessen their embarrassment by calling it out. After all, only a true fool doesn’t think they can be one.